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Another Electric Vehicle Benefit: No Direct Exposure To Cancer-Causing Benzene

Photo by Zach Shahan | CleanTechnica

Some people say they like the smell of gasoline, but that sweet odor they are talking about is probably a chemical called benzene, which is a known carcinogen.

The World Health Organization, an international public health agency associated with the United Nations, has written this statement about the chemical: “Benzene is a well-established cause of cancer in humans.1,3 The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified benzene as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1).1,3 Benzene causes acute myeloid leukaemia (acute non-lymphocytic leukaemia), and there is limited evidence that benzene may also cause acute and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Individuals who have experienced benzene poisoning requiring treatment show a substantially increased risk of mortality from leukaemia.”

So, what is it? Benzene is a very flammable colorless or light-colored liquid with a sweet aroma. It is found in gasoline and crude oil. (It’s also generated when tobacco is burned in products like cigars and cigarettes.) Benzene is also used in various industrial processes, such as the making of some plastics and resins.

As it relates to ICE vehicles, benzene exposure occurs from fumes at gas stations, and breathing vehicle exhaust or fumes from gas leaks within the vehicle. Benzene can also be absorbed through the skin when gasoline it is handled or spilled. Another potential source is fumes from a small gas container stored in a vehicle trunk. Of course, EV drivers still breathe in some benzene in air pollution from all the ICE vehicles on the roads and highways, but they avoid the direct exposure from gasoline fumes.

Because the American Centers for Disease Control might be a more recognizable source to some readers than WHO, it seemed prudent to look up what the CDC has written about benzene exposure, “The 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.” (The quote is on the CDC website, but it references the DHHS, another part of the US federal government)

Benzene’s impact is not limited to cancer, as the CDC explains, “The major effect of benzene from long-term exposure (exposure of a year or more) is on the blood.  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.”

Short-term exposure can also be damaging, and the CDC has listed the following consequences:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Death (at very high levels)

Because ICE vehicles use gasoline for fuel, visiting gas stations is unavoidable. Yet, in order to decrease benzene exposure the World Health Organization has written, “Reduce exposure at petrol filling stations as far as possible by following best practices in location, design and extraction.”

If you consider the number of times you have visited a gas station and how many of them might have resulted in benzene exposure it’s not the most pleasant exercise, is it?

Also, if you have ever seen people using gasoline as a solvent to clean greasy hands, this exposure obviously would not be one to continue.

If you drive an electric vehicle, you never have to visit any gas stations and you will be avoiding this type of benzene exposure. EVs also don’t have gas tanks, fuel pumps, or fuel lines that can leak, so you will also not be exposed from these sources. You also will not carry a small gas container in your trunk the way some ICE vehicle drivers do, so there won’t be any fumes from it either.

This shows us that electric vehicles are not only better for the environment, they have some human health benefits too.

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