Benzene is a colourless liquid occurring naturally in fossil raw materials such as crude oil and hard coal. It is a basic chemical in the manufacturing of a wide range of everyday items.
Benzene has been attacked in the press as a hazardous product. It has indeed been classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). However it is important to note, that benzene itself is not a consumer product.
Benzene is used within the chemical industry to produce other chemicals, which are used to make consumer goods. All handling and application of benzene must meet strict international standards to protect the consumer from any risk. Generally the industry applies even more stringent standards than required by regulatory authorities.
Benzene is the major raw material for the production of:
Which is used to produce polystyrene and ABS (Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene) and rubber products. Polystyrene can be found at home, in offices, supermarkets and fast-food-restaurants. It comes in a variety of shapes and forms, from foam egg cartons to disposable coffee cups, from CD "jewel boxes" to toys. "Peanuts" used in packing and lightweight foam pieces, which cushion new appliances such as television or computers, are also made of polystyrene. ABS is a tough plastic, widely used for computer and telephone housings, luggage, sporting helmets, automotive parts, as well as toys such as children’s building bricks.
Cumene and phenol are used as a starting material to make health-care products such as aspirin and penicillin. Penicillin is one of the first and still one of the most widely used antibiotic, used to treat a wide variety of diseases, such as pneumonia, spinal meningitis, throat infections and diphtheria. Phenol is also used to produce bisphenol A, from which epoxy resins and polycarbonates are made. Epoxy resins are used to increase resistance of paints, so that they can be used on ships and in chemical storage tanks. Polycarbonates are transformed into compact discs, safety glasses, safety helmets, lenses, light "plastic" glasses and cooling fans. Touch-sensitive panels on telephones are made of films of polycarbonate.
Cyclohexane is an intermediate in the production of nylon, which is one of the earliest plastics and a versatile product, with an endless list of possible application. All consumers know its advantages, when used in easy-care clothing, such as stockings, but its application also include engineering plastics for cars, toys, health-care products, carpets, roller-blade wheels, ship sails and parachutes, to name only a few.
Benzene is also used to produce vehicle tyres, detergents, solvents, dyes, cosmetics and home care products.
Toluene is a colourless liquid, also deriving from crude oil or coal tar. Its major end-products are polyurethanes; these are very important for the production of the foam used in furniture, mattresses, car seats, insulation for buildings, coatings for floors and furniture, and refrigerators. Furthermore Polyurethanes are also used for artificial sports track, jogging shoes and in roller blade wheels.