Driving in the summer is challenging, but being inside a car on a hot day can be unbearable. It’s natural to want to cool down quickly, but before you turn on the A/C, make sure you know how to protect yourself from benzene exposure.

What Is Benzene?

Benzene is a liquid chemical that’s colorless, flammable, and has a sweet odor. You can be at risk of benzene exposure daily if your job is in an industrial workplace that uses benzene, when you are at a gas station, or when you stand next to an idling car, because benzene is in the vehicle exhaust.

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Although the amount of benzene in gasoline has gone down due to federal and state regulations, benzene can still be found in your car’s fuel. It’s possible to get exposed to benzene in your car if you start the engine before you turn on the A/C, especially if your windows are closed.

The most common way for people to get exposed to benzene is by inhaling air that has been contaminated with the chemical. When you turn on the A/C, it emits benzene before it cools the air in the car. As you can imagine, closed windows will keep the contaminated air in, forcing you to breathe in the fumes. (Not to mention, when you don’t roll down the windows of a hot car, it takes much longer for the air conditioning to bring down the car’s temperature to a comfortable level).

Benzene Exposure And Health Concerns

Multiple studies have shown that benzene can affect the blood and bones and has been declared as carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a part of the World Health Organization, because of strong evidence that it causes acute myeloid leukemia. Long-term exposure can severely affect your bone marrow, the part of the bone that creates new blood cells.

In high doses, benzene can harm your nervous system and cause dizziness, headaches, tremors, confusion, and make you unconscious. Even if you avoid inhaling it, benzene vapor can irritate your skin, eyes, and throat.

What To Do To Stay Safe

  • When you get in your car, roll down the windows, turn on the A/C, and let the air recycle in your vehicle. After a few minutes, start the engine and wait a bit before you close the windows.
  • Try to avoid standing next to or near idling cars to limit your exposure to exhaust fumes.
  • Pump gas carefully at the gas station to reduce gasoline fumes. Keep your windows rolled up.

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