Benzene in Drinking Water

January 2nd, 2014

Benzene leaches into groundwater from landfills.


Image via Bill McChesney (Flickr)

Benzene in Drinking Water

It is unfortunate, but there are so many dangerous compounds that we must worry about finding their way into our water supply. I’ve discussed many of these compounds in my past posts, now I’d like to educate you about benzene in water. Benzene in drinking water is a serious concern, and has been listed as a no-no by the EPA since the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. Please allow me to take a moment and answer some important questions about benzene and its effect on drinking water.

Q: What is the compound benzene?

A: Benzene is classified as a volatile organic chemical compound.

Q: You just said volatile; does that mean benzene is flammable?

A: Yes, benzene is a highly flammable chemical.

Q: Does benzene have a discernible appearance or smell?

A: Benzene is colorless, but it does have a smell that has been described as “sweet” or like the “new car smell.” It evaporates quickly into the air, so you will notice a smell almost immediately.

Q: Where does benzene come from?

A: Naturally, benzene is found in volcanoes and created via forest fires. Unnaturally, benzene is created via industrial manufacturing.

Q: Are there other places benzene is found?

A: Yes, benzene is also found in cigarette smoke, crude oil, and gasoline. You’ve probably seen notices about benzene at the pump when you’re filling up your car.

Q: In what products is benzene used?

A: Benzene is a primary component in nylon and polyester fabrics, as well as plastics, resins, and rubber materials. It is also used as a solvent for paints, printers, and you’ve probably noticed warnings at your dry cleaners, too, because benzene is used in the dry cleaning process.

Q: How does benzene get into our water supplies?

A: Benzene seeps into the ground and infiltrates our water supplies from factory discharge. It also finds its way into our water supply through leaching. When gas storage tanks and landfills leach into the land, we end up with benzene in water.

Q: So, our manufacturing, energy, and disposal processes contribute to benzene in drinking water.

A: Unfortunately, yes, they do.

Q: Well, if the chemical is used daily, it must be safe. Why should I be concerned about benzene in my drinking water?

A: Because benzene is not safe despite its common uses. Benzene is a carcinogen, causing lung cancer in smokers and other forms of cancer to those who ingest it via their water supply. Benzene is well known to be an underlying cause of anemia, bone marrow abnormalities, and various forms of leukemia. Benzene also compromises brain, kidney, liver, and lung function, as well as causes reproductive issues in both women and men. It can also cause birth defects in the parents’ newborns.

Q: Those are some serious side effects.

A: Yes, they are. Benzene in water is not a subject that should be taken lightly, particularly benzene in drinking water; it’s becoming a global epidemic.

Q: What are the EPA regulations on benzene in our drinking water?

A: The EPA sets what are called Maximum Contaminant Level Goals – or MCLGs – for certain biological, chemical, physical, or radiological substances in our drinking water supply. Benzene’s MCLG level is zero. In other words, the goal is to have zero levels of benzene in our water supplies.

This isn’t always realistic, however, according to the EPA that is, and so the EPA also sets what are called Maximum Contaminant Levels – or MCLs – and benzene’s current MCL is 0.005 milligrams per liter or 5 parts per billion.

Q: So we might have a limited amount of benzene in our water supplies, and that is legal, even though it comes with so many health risks?

A: Yes, because it is believed that the limited amounts of benzene in our water supplies does not cause harm to humans or animals. I tend to disagree and feel that the only safe amount is the MCLG amount of zero.

Q: How can I tell if benzene is in my tap water?

A: Well, if the benzene level in your municipal water supply exceeds EPA standards, your municipality is required by law to notify you in writing of the danger within 30 days. This being said, I always recommend getting a water testing kit and testing your tap water on a regular basis. Follow the directions on the testing kit and send your tap water to a reliable testing lab. Ensure that the lab tests for benzene during its analysis of your drinking water.

Q: Besides having my water tested independently, what other steps can I take to ensure my water is free from benzene and other harmful chemicals?

A: Filtering the water that is coming into your house should be a top priority! Benzene and many other harmful chemicals are found in our water supplies, so you cannot be too safe when filtering the water coming into your home. The Black Berkey filter, for example, effectively removes benzene from the water supply pouring out of your taps.

For more information on benzene and drinking water, please see the following links:


Written By: Lynn Taylor

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