Benzene is a well-known hazardous chemical that is used in petroleum-based processes to create plastics, lubricants, rubbers, dyes, explosives, detergents, pharmaceuticals, and many other products. It’s commonly found in the air as a pollutant produced from burning coal and oil, and gasoline products. It is also a building block for other hazardous chemicals such as dioxins, meaning, you need this toxic chemical to make more stable, but still hazardous, chemicals.
Benzene impacts you both in the short-term and in the long-term. For acute exposures, people can experience drowsiness, headaches, and irritation of the respiratory system, their eyes, or their skin. In severe cases of accidental inhalation of benzene, people can become overwhelmed and go unconscious or even die (EPA; CDC). For chronic exposures, specific organs can be targeted and harmed or various disorders in the blood can occur, including reduced numbers of red blood cells and aplastic anemia. Some women who inhaled high levels of benzene over several months reported irregular menstrual cycles, and rubber manufacturing workers who were exposed on the job had an increased incidence of leukemia.
Since recycled rubber became widely used in artificial turf, there have been concerns about how children are impacted by playing in these fields. In 2009, a Women’s Soccer coach at the University of Washington, Amy Griffin, was concerned after several soccer goalies developed cancers, and all around the same time. By 2014, she had compiled a list of players, including 30 current or former Washington soccer players, who all developed some type of cancer ranging from the mid 1990s to 2015. By 2016, the list had nearly doubled to 53 people.
Although the investigation by the Washington State Department of Health concluded that exposures from crumb rubber are very low and is not a public health issue, families still have significant concerns given that crumb rubber is made from recycled tires that contain toxic chemicals. Further investigations will be conducted under the Federal Research Action Plan on Recycled Tire Crumb Used on Playing Fields and Playgrounds (FRAP).
- EPA has issued a national emissions standard for benzene waste operations with its most recent amendments in 2003.
- CDC Facts About Benzene
- Benzene Overview