The ‘lowdown’ on benzene
There has been a lot of talk lately about the chemical benzene [in relation to oil and gas development]. Some claim that the acceptable levels in drinking water or ingested in the air are so small that the side effects to health are minimal.
As a science teacher, one summer I had an opportunity to attend a National Institute of Health graduate course at Colorado State University on current trends in molecular biology. One issue we studied was the effect of chemical toxins on the human body. So here is the scientific “lowdown” on benzene as I understand it.
Benzene is found in nature, but usually only in very small amounts that the body can handle. The problems with benzene contained in either the water we drink or the air we breathe is twofold. First of all, benzene is cellularly permeable. That is, it can enter our cells very easily. Secondly, we do not have any specific enzymes to break benzene down and remove it like other chemicals such as alcohol. Once in the system, it is difficult for the body to remove benzene. When assimilated into the body benzene can have a cumulative toxic effect over time.
Given that information: We need to rethink how close we allow [oil and gas development] to occur in inhabited areas, especially our schools and neighborhoods.
Decide for yourself, more information about problems with benzene and other dioxin compounds can be found at: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/benzene/basics/facts.asp.
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