Day 19: Benzene

Benzene is an organic chemical compound that is highly toxic in drinking water.  There is no acceptable level of benzene in drinking water as it is a known carcinogen, it is toxic to the haemotopoietic system (which can lead to leukemia) and it has been shown to cause chromosomal aberrations in humans and other species.  The EPA’s goal for all utilities is to have no detectable level of benzene in drinking water, however because of limitations of detection, the Maximum Content Level has been set at 5 parts per billion.

Benzene is naturally occurring in crude oil, however its synthesis was not perfected until the late 19th century.  Among its early uses was as an aftershave lotion and an industrial solvent.  It was slowly replaced by toluene in these areas which – although still toxic – was not as carcinogenic.  In 1903 it became an important ingredient in producing decaffeinated coffee, and it found many uses in the consumer products like paint strippers, and rubber cement.  Until the late 1970’s it could be purchased in small cans for general-purpose use.  It is currently highly regulated, however it has received renewed attention lately as a core ingredient in fracking fluids that has been discovered in groundwater in areas where natural gas excavation is performed.

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