Airborne benzene exposures from cleaning metal surfaces with small volumes of petroleum solvents

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2013 Jun;216(3):324-32. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2012.08.008. Epub 2012 Oct 22.


Airborne benzene concentrations were measured in a room with controlled air exchange during surface cleaning with two petroleum-based solvents (a paint thinner and an engine degreaser). The solvents were spiked with benzene to obtain target concentrations of 0.001, 0.01, and 0.1% by volume in the liquid. Personal samples on the worker and area samples up to 1.8m away were collected over 12 events (n=84 samples) designed to examine variation in exposure with solvent type, cleaning method (rag wipe or spatula scrape), surface area cleaned, air exchange rate, solvent volume applied, and distance from the cleaned surface. Average task breathing zone concentrations of benzene represented by 18-32 min time-weighted averages were 0.01 ppm, 0.05 ppm, and 0.27 ppm, when the solvents contained approximately 0.003, 0.008, and 0.07% benzene. Solvent benzene concentration, volume applied, and distance from the handling activities had the greatest effect on airborne concentrations. The studied solvent products containing 0.07% benzene (spiked) did not exceed the current OSHA permissible exposure limit of 1 ppm (averaged over 8h) or the ACGIH Threshold Limit Value of 0.5 ppm, in any of the tested short-term exposure scenarios. These data suggest that, under these solvent use scenarios, petroleum-based solvent products produced in the United States after 1978 likely did not produce airborne benzene concentrations above those measured if the concentration was less than 0.1% benzene.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / analysis*
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / analysis
  • Benzene / analysis*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Inhalation Exposure / analysis*
  • Metals
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Petroleum
  • Solvents / analysis


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Metals
  • Petroleum
  • Solvents
  • Benzene