Benzene and Its Alternative Solvents

A solvent is a liquid, solid, or gas used to dissolve another solid, liquid, or gaseous solute for making a solution.  Benzene, as a chemical that is formed as a result of incompletely burned natural products, is a non-polar solvent used in the manufacture of such products as polymers and plastics, phenol for resins and adhesives, rubber, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, explosives, napalm, and pesticides. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, it is a carcinogen.

Main Uses
Until it was classified a carcinogen, benzene was added to gasoline to boost its octane rating and reduce knocking. Today, it is primarily used as an intermediate in the production of styrene (used to make polymers and plastics), cumene (used to make phenol for adhesives) and cyclohexane (used to make nylon). Toluene, which is less hazardous, is now commonly used as a solvent in chemical reactions instead of benzene.

Exposure
It is toxic. Exposure to benzene can cause serious problems by damaging your DNA. High levels can result in benzene poisoning. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, confusion, drowsiness, tremors and unconsciousness. At extremely high levels it can result in death. Long-term complications, in addition to cancer, can include excessive bleeding and anemia due to its effect on the bone marrow and blood.

Alternative Solvents
Cyclohexane
is a colorless flammable liquid. It is a non-polar solvent like benzene, which means it is insoluble in water and soluble in non-polar substances such as alcohol, ether, acetone, benzene and ligroin. It is manufactured by reacting benzene with hydrogen. It is a major raw material for producing adipic acid and caprolactum. Cyclohexane is also used in electroplating, rubber manufacturing, and in the production of varnish solvents.

Toluene is a clear, water-insoluble non-organic solvent with the typical smell of a paint thinner. It is capable of dissolving a number of inorganic chemicals such as sulfur and occurs naturally as a component of crude oil. It is commercially produced in petroleum refining because it is a major constituent of gasoline. 

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