Benzene is one of the most monitored for chemicals in groundwater. Its presence or absence can be the difference between a closed site and extensive remediation efforts.

What is benzene?
Benzene is an organic chemical compound comprised of a ring of six carbon atoms where each carbon has also bonded with one hydrogen atom. It is one of the most basic petrochemicals, it’s highly flammable, and it is a natural part of crude oil and cigarette smoke.

What are its uses?
Benzene is a common component in gasoline. It has a high octane rating and reduces knocking in a vehicle?s engine. It is also a very reactive chemical, and its primary use is to produce heavier chemicals such as ethylbenzene. It is a building block for plastics and rubber and is also used as a solvent in paints and glues.

How does benzene get into the groundwater, and why monitor it?
Discharge from factories, leaching from landfills, and leaking from gasoline storage tanks are the main ways in which benzene can find its way into the groundwater.

Benzene is associated with a number of industries, so its presence is a good indicator of a toxic release. It is also a known carcinogen. Drinking benzene-contaminated water increases cancer risk, as well as decreases platelet counts in your blood.

It should be noted that benzene CAN occur naturally. It can be emitted into the air in large quantities during volcanic eruptions and forest fires.

What are the safety standards?
The EPA maintains two standards. The Maximum Contamination Level (MCL) is 5 parts per billion (ppb). The Maximum Contamination Level Goal (MCLG) is 0 ppb. It should be noted that states also have their own standards. In North Carolina (where I work), the standard is 1 ppb.

To download a comprehensive benzene safety sheet, click here!
 


Written by: Chris Hollinger

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