According to a release from the Ministry of Health, it has started the review of literature as the basis for conducting research on the effects of the air pollutants associated with fires at Disposal Sites and will engage local and international partners in this priority area.
The Air Quality Report which was commissioned by the Ministry has shown that during the period when the sample was taken (March 13-14, 2015) there were high levels of hazardous substances including benzene. Prolonged or long-term exposure to benzene has been blamed for causing cancers such as leukemia.
But what exactly is benzene and why it is so dangerous? See below:
- Benzene is a chemical that is a colorless or light yellow liquid at room temperature. It has a sweet odor and is highly flammable.
- Benzene evaporates into the air very quickly. Its vapor is heavier than air and may sink into low-lying areas.
- Benzene dissolves only slightly in water and will float on top of water.
Where benzene is found and how it is used
- Benzene is formed from both natural processes and human activities.
- Natural sources of benzene include volcanoes and forest fires. Benzene is also a natural part of crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke.
- Some industries use benzene to make other chemicals that are used to make plastics, resins, and nylon and synthetic fibers. Benzene is also used to make some types of lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.
How benzene works
- Benzene works by causing cells not to work correctly. For example, it can cause bone marrow not to produce enough red blood cells, which can lead to anemia. Also, it can damage the immune system by changing blood levels of antibodies and causing the loss of white blood cells.
- The seriousness of poisoning caused by benzene depends on the amount, route, and length of time of exposure, as well as the age and preexisting medical condition of the exposed person.
Long-term health effects
- The major effect of benzene from long-term exposure is on the blood. (Long-term exposure means exposure of a year or more.) Benzene causes harmful effects on the bone marrow and can cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. It can also cause excessive bleeding and can affect the immune system, increasing the chance for infection.
- Some women who breathed high levels of benzene for many months had irregular menstrual periods and a decrease in the size of their ovaries. It is not known whether benzene exposure affects the developing fetus in pregnant women or fertility in men.
- Animal studies have shown low birth weights, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage when pregnant animals breathed benzene.
- The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that benzene causes cancer in humans. Long-term exposure to high levels of benzene in the air can cause leukemia, cancer of the blood-forming organs.