Benzene is a colorless, sweet-smelling chemical that can be derived from natural gas, crude oil, or coal.
What is benzene?
Benzene is primarily used as a feedstock, or raw material, to make other industrial chemicals, such as ethylbenzene, cumene and cyclohexane. Benzene is also used as a solvent in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.
Most benzene exposure comes from the air from a number of sources, including forest fires, auto exhaust and gasoline from fueling stations. Benzene in cigarette smoke is a major source of exposure. Very low levels of benzene have been detected in fruits, vegetables, nuts, dairy products, eggs and fish. Most people are exposed to only very tiny amounts of benzene fromwater and food.
Uses & Benefits
As a building block chemical, benzene is reacted with other chemicals to produce a variety of other chemistries, materials and, ultimately, consumer goods.
Benzene is used to make other chemicals like ethylbenzene, cumene and cyclohexane, which are then reacted and used in the manufacture of a variety of materials and plastics such as polystyrene, ABS, and nylon. There can be many steps in the process that starts with the benzene molecule and ends with a completed material or consumer product. For example, benzene is a building block used to make ethylbenzene, which is then used to make styrene, which is used to make polystyrene. The end material, polystyrene, is a completely different material chemically than benzene.
For consumer products where benzene is used as a building block or intermediate, the benzene is typically fully reacted in a closed system, with little to no benzene remaining in the finished consumer product.
Benzene also is used to make some types of lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, explosives and pesticides.
Benzene is naturally found in crude oil. Crude oil is refined into gasoline by using heat, pressure and chemicals in the refinery to separate the spectrum of petroleum products from crude oil. The refining process yields gasoline and a number of other petroleum products, including diesel and jet fuels, solvents, lubricating oils, many of which include small amounts of benzene.