Environmental and biological monitoring of benzene during self-service automobile refueling

Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Dec;108(12):1195-202. doi: 10.1289/ehp.001081195.


Although automobile refueling represents the major source of benzene exposure among the nonsmoking public, few data are available regarding such exposures and the associated uptake of benzene. We repeatedly measured benzene exposure and uptake (via benzene in exhaled breath) among 39 self-service customers using self-administered monitoring, a technique rarely used to obtain measurements from the general public (130 sets of measurements were obtained). Benzene exposures averaged 2.9 mg/m(3) (SD = 5.8 mg/m(3); median duration = 3 min) with a range of < 0.076-36 mg/m(3), and postexposure breath levels averaged 160 microg/m(3) (SD = 260 microg/m(3)) with a range of < 3.2-1,400 microg/m(3). Log-transformed exposures and breath levels were significantly correlated (r = 0.77, p < 0.0001). We used mixed-effects statistical models to gauge the relative influences of environmental and subject-specific factors on benzene exposure and breath levels and to investigate the importance of various covariates obtained by questionnaire. Model fitting yielded three significant predictors of benzene exposure, namely, fuel octane grade (p = 0.0011), duration of exposure (p = 0.0054), and season of the year (p = 0.032). Likewise, another model yielded three significant predictors of benzene concentration in breath, specifically, benzene exposure (p = 0.0001), preexposure breath concentration (p = 0.0008), and duration of exposure (p = 0.038). Variability in benzene concentrations was remarkable, with 95% of the estimated values falling within a 274-fold range, and was comprised entirely of the within-person component of variance (representing exposures of the same subject at different times of refueling). The corresponding range for benzene concentrations in breath was 41-fold and was comprised primarily of the within-person variance component (74% of the total variance). Our results indicate that environmental rather than interindividual differences are primarily responsible for benzene exposure and uptake during automobile refueling. The study also demonstrates that self-administered monitoring can be efficiently used to measure environmental exposures and biomarkers among the general public.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Benzene / analysis*
  • Breath Tests
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure
  • Male
  • Motor Vehicles*
  • Self-Evaluation Programs
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Benzene