Benzene: Unconventional Policies are More Valuable

April 2021

Benzene is a chemical compound composed of 6 carbons and 6 hydrogens. It's a colorless liquid with an odor similar to gasoline, with a boiling point of 80 degrees Celsius. Benzene is used in the production of plastics like polystyrene, and also as a solvent in the production of dyes, paints and other industrial products.

Benzene is a volatile, colorless liquid thatโ€™s present in many places. It has a sweet odor and is easily evaporated. Benzene is an organic compound with the chemical formula C6H6 which consists of two benzene rings connected by a single bond (C-C). Carbon-carbon (benzene) bonds are found in all hydrocarbons including coal, crude oil and natural gas. In addition to its use as a petrochemical feedstock, it is also used to make plastics such as polystyrene--often used in Styrofoam cups--as well as detergents like Dixan and Lestoil.

It was first identified in 1825 by Michael Faraday. And while it's not something that we encounter everyday outside manufacturing facilities or gas stations, benzene has become notorious for its role in leukemia. In fact, there are few substances that have had such an impact on public health as benzene has had over the last fifty years.ย  Benzene has been used for its ability to bleach fabrics, but the most common usage of benzene today is in the production of polystyrene plastics.

In the beginning, benzene was a sought after polymer due to its high tensile strength and heat resistance. In the early 1900's, it was discovered that benzene could be used to produce plastic fibers that were very desirable because they did not melt at high temperatures, such as those found in aluminum foil packaging. The only problem with this discovery was that it had been patented by Bayer Company and DuPont. Since both companies held patents on the process, they were not willing to sell their process to other companies. This meant that other companies could not produce their own plastic fibers. DuPont, being the first company to utilize benzene was the first to develop processes for bleaching and polymerization. This is due to its expertise in organic chemistry and the fact that it was located near a chemical supply company known as Friedel-Crafts.

The process involved heating benzene with chlorine gas and a porous surface until it became white. The resulting solid was then washed with ammonium chloride in order to remove the excess chlorine, and then dried. This product was known as "pyralin", which would later become known as Bakelite. The process for utilizing benzene in plastic production was known as the "wet method" while the method used by DuPont was known as the "dry method".

Using benzene in plastic production became a sought after industry, and it was just a matter of time before someone would discover that workers were becoming seriously ill. As early as 1913, there were reports about individual cases of Benzene poisoning at a factory owned by Otto Bayer. The symptoms of white blood cells and red blood cells being lowered, along with bone marrow showing signs of damage led to the discovery that benzene was a toxic substance. In fact, some workers died due to the exposure.

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