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CPSC Recommends Ban Of Benzene In Consumer Products

Release Date: April 27, 1978

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) today proposed a ban of paint removers, rubber cements and all other consumer products containing the chemical benzene because of the serious health hazard it poses.

Benzene, also known as Benzol, has been linked with cancer of the white blood cells (leukemia) in man, as well as blood disorders and abnormalities of genetic material (chromosomes).

Prohibited under the proposal would be all consumer products where benzene has been deliberately added as an ingredient, or where benzene is present as an unintentional impurity in concentrations of 0.1 percent or greater. The Commission has proposed 0.1 percent as the lowest feasible level of benzene as a contaminant because the substance is ever-present in the environment. Most common petroleum distillates show traces of benzene because it is extremely difficult to eliminate during the petroleum refining process.

Benzene is a clear, colorless, extremely flammable liquid with a strong, pleasant odor. Found in crude oil and as a by-product of decomposing organic matter, it is manufactured from petroleum distillates.

Industrial workers have been reported to develop blood disorders when exposed to low levels of benzene. In a 1977 experiment by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a person using a paint remover containing 52 percent benzene in a garage with poor air circulation was exposed to an average of 130 parts per million benzene in the air over a 25minute period.

According to CPSC staff, use of benzene in paint removers is steadily declining. A Commission survey of 49 paint companies in 1977 revealed only two firms still using the chemical in their removers. Of 52 rubber cement makers contacted, one still intentionally uses benzene.

Also affected would be other household products, such as varnish, wood stains, cleaners, and paint brush cleaners, where benzene may be present as a contaminant in commonly used oil-based chemicals (petroleum distillates).

Any burden placed on manufacturers and consumers because of the ban is expected to be minimal because a wide range of substitute chemicals are available with less than the 0.1 percent benzene level -- among them, heptane, hexane, naphtha, toluene, xylene, methyl ethyl ketone and mineral spirits.

Gasoline is exempted from the proposal because the Commission believes that benzene exposure from gasoline is a complex interagency problem. Benzene manufactured and distributed for use in laboratories as a solvent or reagent is also exempted.

The Commission anticipates the proposal published in the Federal Register will reflect a range of possible effective dates on which comments will be solicited.

The proposed ban will be published shortly for comment in the Federal Register. A public meeting to hear oral comments the proposal is scheduled for mid-June at Commission headquarters, 3rd Floor, 1111 - 18th St., NW, Washington, DC 20207. Those interested in presenting views should contact the Office of the Secretary, CPSC, Washington, DC, (202)634-7700.

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The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risk of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product-related incidents cost the nation more than $1 trillion annually. CPSC's work to ensure the safety of consumer products has contributed to a decline in the rate of injuries associated with consumer products over the past 50 years. 

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