B is for Benzene

Occasionally localised contamination of wells can occur due to spillages of petrol and other chemicals. This can result in Benzene being found in groundwater supplies.

Benzene is a significant component of petrol and is widely used as an industrial solvent and in dyes, detergents, coatings, pesticides, lubricants, and in dry cleaning.  Water suppliers in the UK monitor for Benzene at the tap and so can detect its presence as a consequence of any source.

Benzene is a colourless liquid with a distinctive smell. It evaporates easily and is highly flammable. It is only slightly soluble in water. In soils and water bodies it breaks down slowly and can pass into groundwater where it can persist for weeks.

Normal environmental concentrations of Benzene are unlikely to harm animals or plants. When ingested or applied directly to the skin it is very toxic and is a proven carcinogen.

In the UK (including Scotland) the main legislation controlling releases of benzene is the National Air Quality Strategy; regulations on pollution of surface waters (SI 1997/2560); and Pollution, Prevention and Control (PPC) regulations. European Directives controlling emissions of benzene include those concerned with the pollution of aquatic environments (76/464); assessment and management of ambient air quality (96/62/EC); control of solvents (99/12/EC); and the Hazardous Wastes Directive; and it is listed as a “priority substance” for the proposed water framework directive.

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