05 Oct 2001

The revision of the occupational exposure standard and establishment of a national air standard for the carcinogen, benzene, are recommended in a chemical assessment report produced by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS).

Benzene is produced predominantly in the steel industry, petroleum refining and in petrol vehicle emissions, where exposures are most likely to occur. Among workers who are exposed to benzene if the workplace environment is contaminated with petrol vapours or engine exhaust are vehicle mechanics and professional drivers.

"There is cause for concern about the risk for leukaemia in workers with repeated occupational exposure to benzene," said the Director of NICNAS, Dr Margaret Hartley.

"There is no known threshold for the carcinogenic effects of benzene, but since the risk for leukaemia increases with exposure, it can be reduced by controlling exposure to the highest practicable standard."

"Occupational exposures should be minimised by improving workplace control measures and using the best available technology," Dr Hartley said.

The National Occupational Health and Safety Commission has already established a working group to consider the report's recommendation to lower the occupational exposure standard.

The public are exposed to benzene through the inhalation of air contaminated with vehicle exhaust and petrol evaporation. "The establishment of a national ambient air benzene level would help reduce the risk of public exposure to benzene," Dr Hartley said.

The PEC Assessment Report on Benzene - PEC 21- is available to download from the NICNAS web site.


The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) operates under the Commonwealth Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989.

NICNAS is a statutory scheme within the portfolio of the Minister for Health and Ageing. Its approach to the scientific assessment of chemicals covers toxicity, exposure and use to assess the environmental, public health and occupational health and safety risk. For more information see the web site www.nicnas.gov.au

Further information

Nick Miller, NICNAS, (02) 8577 8810 or 0407 228 285