Benzene Timeline

1825—Michael Faraday isolates benzene from oil gas.

1849—First industrial-scale production of benzene begins in Germany.

1897— Swedish researchers, observing high rates of aplastic anemia in young women working in a bicycle tire factory, conclude that benzene is a powerful poison to bone marrow.

1920s—Benzene used as after-shave lotion and douche due to its pleasant smell.

1928—Italian researchers Dolore and Borgomano publish first case study of
leukemia caused by benzene

1939—Several investigators recommend other solvents to replace benzene, but this is not implemented.

1946—American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) suggests maximum level of exposure to benzene of 100 ppm, although some cases of benzene poisoning occur at levels of 25 ppm and 10 ppm. Some investigators recommend substitution of other solvents to replace benzene, but again—no implementation.

1947—Maximum level of exposure to benzene reduced to 50 ppm.

1948—Maximum level of exposure to benzene further reduced to 35 ppm. American Petroleum Institute (API) recommends maximum level of exposure to benzene of 50 ppm or less.

1957—ACGIH lowers recommended maximum level of exposure to benzene of 25 ppm.

1961—Benzene first used in Turkish shoe industry; 15 years later, there is an epidemic of anemia and leukemia (benzene exposure symptoms) among Turkish shoe workers.

1967—About 800 million gallons of benzene produced in United States. Within two years, it will be up to 1,185 million gallons.

Early 1970s—Researchers at University of North Carolina publish studies showing chronic leukemia among people exposed to low levels of benzene.

1974—Passage of Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to determine safe levels of chemicals (including benzene) in drinking water.

1977—U.S. Department of Labor seeks to reduce maximum level of exposure to benzene to 1 ppm, but this is challenged in the courts by API.

1978—Benzene voluntarily withdrawn from consumer products in U.S.

1980—U.S. Supreme Court issues the “Benzene Decision.” This ruling overturns recent policy of  Occupational Health and Safety Administration, severely limiting regulatory actions.

1987—New maximum level of exposure to benzene reduced to 1 ppm. OSHA estimates that 237,000 workers in U.S. are currently exposed to benzene.

1993—12 billion pounds of benzene produced, up from 9.9 billion in 1984.

1996—Studies show benzene-related diseases even at 1 ppm level of exposure.

2001—In wake of September 11 terrorist attacks, benzene levels at Ground Zero are 58 times higher than OSHA’s permissible limit.

2005—Water supply to Harbin, China (population 9 million) cut off when benzene leaks into Songhua River.

August 2006—Suit filed against Coca-Cola over presence of benzene in soft drinks; smaller companies voluntarily eliminate ingredients that cause it.

January 2007—Four senators from Washington and Oregon demand that EPA tighten regulations on benzene; residents in Pacific northwest have some of highest levels of benzene exposure in country.

February 2007—Under legal pressure, EPA imposes tougher rules on benzene fuel limits.

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