A new study has confirmed the link between exposure of expectant mothers to benzene at work and increased risk leukaemia among their children. Steve Billingham, CEO of Duvas Technologies, explains why this should provide yet more motivation for businesses to improve monitoring of benzene concentration levels.

Benzene risks at work

We are all exposed to benzene, whether breathing air containing particles at home or from vehicle exhaust when we travel. However, according to the US EPA, long-term exposure to benzene levels as low as 1ppm can lead to serious health conditions – everything from anaemia and immune system damage, to acute myeloid leukaemia.

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates more than 238,000 Americans are exposed to benzene at work on a daily basis. It is in this context that a new study provides yet another wakeup call about the risks posed by this pervasive chemical.

Until recently, benzene’s link to leukaemia was best established among adults exposed to the chemical at work. Previous studies had only established a connection between childhood leukaemia and exposure in the home to benzene-containing paints and solvents. This said, smaller studies hinted that expectant mothers’ exposure at work might be a factor in the condition.

Now, a damning study published by Environmental International has finally confirmed that children whose mothers were occupationally exposed to benzene during pregnancy categorically face a higher risk of leukaemia.

Limited legislation

Most governments do not yet legislate tightly to keep benzene exposure within safe levels. Compared to other pollutants, such as CO2 and NOX, legislation tends to be limited and non-binding.

In the USA, the Clean Air Act governs regulation of benzene in the chemical engineering industry, with monitoring at the production site fence line limiting to levels to just under 3ppb. Yet other US pollution regulations allow benzene concentrations as high as 10 ppm. In Europe, legislation is even looser, with benzene classified within other chemical compounds.

In China, benzene is briefly mentioned as part of national air pollution legislation, but air quality management responsibility is devolved to local authorities.  In some developing countries, benzene levels are not legislated at all. 

At Duvas Technologies, we believe governments need to introduce strict, joined-up legislation. This is the first and most important step to protect public safety.

Advances in monitoring

Until the regulatory environment improves, it remains the responsibility of everyone who uses or produces benzene to carry out routine monitoring if they are to minimise unnecessary human contact.

Recently, there have been significant advances in the development of highly-innovative monitoring technology. Whereby traditional products could only measure benzene within ppm boundaries, next-generation technology (such as the Duvas Technologies DV3000) is capable of quickly and clearly analysing levels to within ppb ranges.

DV3000’s core technology is patent protected and uses proprietary software and algorithms to analyse the readings and generate ppb concentration levels, typically every second per species.

The DV3000 is rugged, reliable, and highly mobile. Applications include fence-line monitoring for fracking, petrochemical and other manufacturing facilities that use or create high levels of benzene gas. Precise, real-time data enables businesses to analyse their impacts, review processes and improve air quality.

Local authorities, transport planners and fleet operators can also use the technology to map and monitor street pollutants, not only for benzene but for up to 13 gases simultaneously to ppb levels.

Monitoring on the front line

We now know benzene in the workplace not only risks the health of adults but also of their unborn children. Tighter and more binding air and water pollution legislation must eventually be introduced if we are to reduce such risks. But by taking advantage of advances in monitoring technology, it is already possible to alert people at work about high concentrations of benzene and take the steps necessary to reduce the risks to them, and to their families.

For more information about Duvas Technologies, or to find out about the company’s latest range of benzene monitoring equipment, visit www.duvastechnologies.com.