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Benzene Exposure and Human Health

Benzene demonstrates a number of harmful human health effects. The Acute (short-term) and Chronic (long-term) effects of benzene exposure include:

· Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)

· Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

· Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

· Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS)

· Myelofibrosis and Myeloid Metaplasia

· Aplastic Anemia

· Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)

· Hairy Cell Leukemia

· Multiple Myeloma

· Thrombocytopenic Purpura

· Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)

· Hematologic Cancers

The evidence linking benzene and cancer predominantly comes from studies of workers. A considerable number of human studies provide evidence linking benzene and cancer. Initially, increased risks of leukemia, chiefly AML, were reported among workers with high levels of benzene exposure in the chemical, shoemaking, and oil refining industries. More recently, studies have focused on workers with relatively lower exposure. The two examples highlighted here demonstrate the effect of long term low level exposures on human health.

One is a study of approximately 750 Pliofilm rubber workers at three facilities in Ohio, whose causes of death were followed over three decades. This study had several strengths: relatively little exposure to dangerous chemicals other than benzene that might act as confounders (and create a false impression about benzene), a wide range of benzene exposures, and very complete follow-up. It showed an increase in leukemia and multiple myeloma (a cancer of immune system cells in the bone marrow) among exposed workers.

Another important study was conducted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. Investigators followed almost 30,000 workers exposed to benzene in 233 factories in China, and a similar group of unexposed control workers. The large sample size permitted elevated risks to be detected at low levels of exposure. This study suggested an increased risk of leukemia in workers exposed to less than 10 ppm (parts per million).

These and other epidemiologic studies of benzene show a fairly consistent excess risk to exposed workers of leukemia, and suggestions of excesses in other blood and bone marrow cancers as well.

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