Approximatively 1,000,000 workers in the EU are exposed to benzene in industries that make or use benzene. Benzene is classified as Carcinogenic Category 1A, which means it is a proven cause of cancer in humans.
The link between benzene and cancer has largely focused on leukaemia and other cancers of blood cells. The main way people are exposed is by breathing in air containing benzene. Benzene can also be absorbed through the skin during contact with a source such as gasoline, although this is less common because liquid benzene evaporates quickly.
Where risks occur
Benzene producing or using industries include occupations where oil and gas are produced, refined, distributed, sold and where petroleum products are used. Further occupations with potential exposure are in coke production, manufacture and use of chemicals (including some lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs and pesticides), automotive repair, footwear production, firefighting, and various occupations involving exposure to exhaust fumes from combustion engines.
Furthermore, occupations that may be exposed include steel workers, printing workers, laboratory technicians and workers in solar thermal plants, as benzene is generated by the degradation of the heat transfer fluid.
More about the substance
Benzene is a colourless or light-yellow liquid chemical at room temperature. It evaporates quickly when exposed to air. It is used primarily as a solvent in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, as a starting material and an intermediate in the synthesis of numerous chemicals including plastics, lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.
Both natural and men-made processes produce benzene. It is a natural component of crude oil and gasoline (and therefore motor vehicle exhaust), as well as tobacco smoke. Other natural sources include gas emissions from volcanoes and forest fires.
How the symptoms can affect you
Chronic exposure to benzene mainly harms the bone marrow, the soft, inner parts of bones where new blood cells are made. This can result in anaemia (a low red blood cell count), which can cause a person to feel weak and tired, a low white blood cell count, which can lower the body’s ability to fight infections and different types of leukaemia. Harmful effects on the immune system and the reproductive system have also been described, such as disruption of menstrual cycles.
In addition to its carcinogenic effects on the bone marrow, benzene can produce other acute and chronic health effects. Short-term exposure to high concentrations can lead to symptoms as dizziness, nausea, headache, convulsions, unconsciousness, and cardiac disturbances. It can also be a moderate eye and skin irritant. Smoking increases the risks since cigarette smoke is a major source of benzene exposure. It is important to realise, that the latency period between exposure and benzene related cancer varies from one to 10 years.
What you can do
The best solution is to control exposure by elimination or substitution, for example replacing benzene with another solvent or enclosing the benzene source. Apply adequate technical risk management measures available for the different processes to control exposure (i.e. ventilation) and check your organisational risk reduction strategies. Perform proper exposure measurements so it is known when actions should be taken. Inform workers about the risks and preventive measures. Prevent skin contact.
Personal protective equipment should not be used as the only preventive measure. As many of the above technical and organisational measures as possible must have been implemented beforehand. Make sure the proper personal protective equipment is used. In addition, when selecting equipment, the anatomy of the workers who will be using it must be taken into account and, in the case of respiratory protective equipment based on facial adjustment, it is highly recommended that a fit test be carried out on each person.
EU directive (unless specified otherwise below)
Until 05.04.2024 3,25 mg/m³
Until 05.04.2026 1,65 mg/m³
As of 06.04.2026 0,66 mg/m³
Read directive 2022/431/EU here
|Country||National limit value||National reference|
|Austria||3,2 mg/m³ (TWA)|
12,8 mg/m³ Short term
|To be included|
|Belgium||3,25 mg/m³ (TWA)||Belgium reference|
|Bulgaria||EU directive||To be included|
|Croatia||EU directive||Croatian reference|
|Czech Republic||EU directive||To be included|
|Cyprus||EU directive||To be included|
|Denmark||1,6 mg/m³ (TWA)|
3,2 mg/m³ Short term
|To be included|
|Finland||3,25 mg/m³ (TWA)||Finnish reference|
|France||3,25 mg/m³ (TWA)||French reference|
|Germany||1,9 mg/m³ (TWA)|
15,2 mg/m³ short term
|Greece||EU directive||To be included|
|Hungary||3,25 mg/m³ short term||Hungarian reference|
|Iceland||EU directive||To be included|
|Ireland||3,25 mg/m³ (TWA)||To be included|
|Italy||3,25 mg/m³ (TWA)||To be included|
|Latvia||3,25 mg/m³ (TWA)||To be included|
|Lithuania||EU directive||Lithuanian reference|
|Luxembourg||EU directive||To be included|
|Malta||EU directive||To be included|
|North Macedonia||3,25 mg/m³ (TWA)|
13 mg/m³ short term
|The Netherlands||0,7 mg/m³ (TWA)||To be included|
0,2 ppm (TWA)
|Poland||1,6 mg/m³ (TWA)||To be included|
|Portugal||EU directive||Portuguese reference|
|Romania||3,25 mg/m³ (TWA)||To be included|
|Serbia||-||To be included|
|Slovakia||EU directive||Slovakian reference|
|Slovenia||EU directive||Slovenian reference|
|Spain||3,25 mg/m³ (TWA)||Spanish reference|
|Sweden||1,5 mg/m³ (TWA)|
9 mg/m³ short term
|Turkey||3,25 mg/m³ (TWA)||To be included|
|This data was carefully collected. However, the data is subject to change and was last updated July 6, 2023
References: CLP, IARC, ATSDR (2016) ToxFAQsTM, Study on Impact assessment