Introduction

This article is intended to summarize the current knowledge of the detrimental effects of benzene in the ecosystem, with particular emphasis on potential toxicity to the aquatic and terrestrial organisms. The chemical and physical properties of benzene are discussed as they relate to chemical transit and cycling through the ecosystem. Since toxicity of benzene is known to be mediated by its metabolic activation, a brief discussion of the formation of oxidative metabolites is included. Concern for chemical contamination of habitats must be weighed in the proper context of risk versus concentration. A careful analysis of the benzene concentrations necessary to induce harmful biological effects is included in this discussion.

in water. Benzene has a high vapor pressure of 95.2 mmHg at 25 °C and volatilizes at room temperature. Despite being nonpolar, benzene is moderately soluble in water (1780mgl-1 at 25 °C). The high Henry's law coefficient (5.5 x 10~3 atm m3 mol 1 at 25 °C) for the compound would explain why benzene released to the environment partitions from surface water to the atmosphere.

The ability to substitute various functional groups onto the ring structure makes benzene a useful intermediate in the synthesis of many industrial aromatic compounds. Because of its symmetric, unsaturated hydrocarbon structure, benzene has been widely used as a nonpolar industrial solvent. The widespread use of benzene for industrial purposes has made it ubiquitous in the atmosphere and aquatic habitats, causing concern for the health and safety of humans, plants, fish, and wildlife.

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