Human biomonitoring of low-level benzene exposures

Peter J. Boogaard*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Historically, benzene has been widely used in a large variety of applications. Occupational exposure limits (OELs) were set for benzene as it was found to be acutely toxic, causing central nervous system depression at high exposures. OELs were lowered when it was discovered that chronic exposure to benzene could cause haematotoxicity. After confirmation that benzene is a human carcinogen causing acute myeloid leukaemia and possibly other blood malignancies, OEL were further lowered. The industrial application of benzene as solvent is almost completely discontinued but it is still used as feedstock for the production of other materials, such as styrene. Occupational exposure to benzene may also occur since it is present in crude oil, natural gas condensate and a variety of petroleum products and because benzene can be formed in combustion of organic material. In the past few years, lower OELs for benzene in the range of 0.05–0.25 ppm have been proposed or were already established to protect workers from benzene-induced cancer. The skin is an important potential route of exposure and relatively more important at lower OELs. Consequently, human biomonitoring–which integrates all exposure routes–is routinely applied to control overall exposure to benzene. Several potential biomarkers have been proposed and investigated. For compliance check of the current low OELs, urinary S-phenylmercapturic acid (S-PMA), urinary benzene and blood benzene are feasible biomarkers. S-PMA appears to be the most promising biomarker but proper validation of biomarker levels corresponding to airborne benzene concentrations below 0.25 ppm are needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)799-810
Number of pages12
JournalCritical Reviews in Toxicology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2023


  • Benzene
  • biomarker
  • human biomonitoring
  • limit value
  • occupational exposure


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