Benzene and leukemia. A review of the literature and a risk assessment

Am J Epidemiol. 1988 Mar;127(3):419-39. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a114820.


Benzene is widely recognized as a leukemogen, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is currently attempting to limit exposure to it more strictly. The proposed new regulation is a limit of an eight-hour time-weighted average of 1 ppm in place of the current limit of 10 ppm. The fundamental rationale for the change is a perception that the current standard is associated with an inordinate excess of leukemia. The epidemiologic literature on benzene and leukemia supports the inference that benzene causes acute myelocytic leukemia. However, the available data are too sparse, or suffer other limitations, to substantiate the idea that this causal association applies at low levels (i.e., 1-10 ppm) of benzene. Nonetheless, under the assumption that causation does apply at such low levels, a number of authors, including ourselves, have performed risk assessments using similar data but different methodologies. The assessments that we consider acceptable suggest that, among 1,000 men exposed to benzene at 10 ppm for a working lifetime of 30 years, there would occur about 50 excess deaths due to leukemia in addition to the baseline expectation of seven deaths. However, this estimate is speculative and whether or not enough confidence can be placed in it to justify a lower occupational benzene standard remains a decision for policy makers.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Benzene / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Humans
  • Leukemia / chemically induced*
  • Maximum Allowable Concentration
  • Risk Factors


  • Benzene