Benzene: environmental partitioning and human exposure

Environ Res. 1990 Dec;53(2):221-32. doi: 10.1016/s0013-9351(05)80120-3.


A multimedia transport model was used to evaluate the environmental partitioning of benzene. Measured and predicted environmental concentrations were used to estimate the accumulation of benzene in the food chain and the subsequent extent of human exposure from inhalation and ingestion. Results show that benzene partitions mainly into air (99.9%) and that inhalation is the dominant pathway of human exposure, accounting for more than 99% of the total daily intake of benzene. Ingestion of contaminated food items represents only a minor pathway of human exposure. The long-term average daily intake of benzene by the general population of the U.S. was estimated using three independent methods. Intake estimates based on measured personal air exposures, measured exhaled air concentrations, and a pharmacokinetically derived adipose tissue concentration (73, 63, and 72 micrograms/day, respectively) are in good agreement. Although inhalation is the primary route of human exposure to background levels of benzene in the environment, smoking was found to be the largest anthropogenic source of background human exposure to benzene.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air / analysis
  • Animals
  • Benzene / analysis*
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Cattle
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Fishes
  • Humans
  • Meat / analysis
  • Milk / chemistry
  • Plants / analysis
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Soil / analysis
  • United States
  • Water / analysis


  • Soil
  • Water
  • Benzene