Benzene is a colourless, volatile and flammable liquid with a distinctive odour. It evaporates into the air very quickly and presents a dangerous fire hazard when exposed to heat or flame. It is only slightly soluble in water, but will mix with most organic solvents.
Benzene is one of the simplest organic chemicals known as 'aromatic' compounds -
with their carbon atoms arranged in rings rather than chains.
Benzene is primarily used as a reagent in the production of a wide variety of chemical substances, having uses such as: dyes, detergents, coatings, plastics, fibres, pesticides, adhesives and coatings, lubricating oil additives, dry cleaning, paint and production of some types of rubber. Benzene is also found in crude oil, gasoline and cigarette smoke. Benzene is also categorised and regulated as a VOC (Volatile Organic Compound). At ground level, VOCs react with other air pollutants and contribute to the formation of potentially harmful concentrations of ozone in the lower atmosphere.
Benzene is released to the environment as a result of vehicle emissions, evaporation of petrol during vehicle fuelling and from fuel tanks, emissions from its production and use as a chemical reagent/intermediate and from other fossil fuel combustion.
Impacts on human health and environment
Benzene is a known human carcinogen in long-term exposure situations. Excessive exposure to benzene can also cause health effects on the central nervous system.
Benzene is listed as a priority substance in Annex X of the Water Framework Directive.
Benzene is a priority substance under Regulation 793/93. The draft risk assessment report can be downloaded from http://ecb.jrc.it/existing-chemicals/.
Emission to air reporting threshold: 1000 kg/year
Data source: European Pollutant Emission Register