Health effects of benzidine
Benzidine is a manufactured chemical that does not occur naturally. It is a crystalline (sandy or sugar-like) solid that may be grayish-yellow, white, or reddish-gray. It will evaporate slowly from water and soil. Its flammability, smell, and taste have not been described. Benzidine also has other names, such as 4,4'-diphenylenediamine or Fast Corinth Base B (a registered trade name). In the environment, benzidine is found in either its "free" state (as an organic base), or as a salt (for example, benzidine dihydrochloride or benzidine sulfate). In air, benzidine is found attached to suspended particles or as a vapor.
In the past, industry used large amounts of benzidine to produce dyes for cloth, paper, and leather. However, it has not been made for sale in the United States since the mid-1970s. Major U.S. dye companies no longer make benzidine-based dyes. Benzidine is no longer used in medical laboratories or in the rubber and plastics industries. However, small amounts of benzidine may still be manufactured or imported for scientific research in laboratories or for other specialized uses. Some benzidine-based dyes (or products dyed with them) may also still be brought into the United States.
Pathways for benzidine in the environment
In the past, benzidine entered the environment largely when it was being made or used to produce dyes. Industry released it to waterways in the form of liquids and sludges, and transported benzidine-containing solids to storage or waste sites. Benzidine was sometimes accidentally spilled, and it was released to the air as dust or fumes. For the most part, companies no longer make or use benzidine, and the government strictly regulates these activities. Today, most benzidine still entering the environment probably comes from waste sites where it had been disposed. Some may also come from the chemical or biological breakdown of benzidine-based dyes, or from other dyes where it may exist as an impurity. Only very small amounts of free benzidine will dissolve in water at moderate environmental temperatures. When released into waterways, it will sink and become part of the bottom sludge. Benzidine salts can dissolve more easily in water than free benzidine. Only a very small portion of dissolved benzidine will pass into the air. Benzidine exists in the air as very small particles or as a vapor, which may be brought back to the earth's surface by rain or gravity. In soil, most benzidine is likely to be strongly attached to soil particles, so it does not easily pass into underground water.
Benzidine can slowly be destroyed by certain other chemicals, light, and some microorganisms (for example, bacteria). Certain fish, snails, algae, and other forms of water life may take up and store very small amounts of benzidine, but accumulation in the food chain is unlikely.
Exposure to benzidine
The general population is not likely to be exposed to benzidine through contaminated air, water, soil, or food. Benzidine is a manufactured chemical that does not occur naturally in the environment. Today, U.S. industry makes and uses very little (if any) benzidine, and no releases to air, water, or soil are reported on the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). Only rarely has benzidine been detected in areas other than waste sites, and it has not been found in food. Some dyes used to color foods or drinks may contain impurities that can be broken down to benzidine once inside the body.
If you live near a hazardous waste site, you could be exposed to benzidine by drinking contaminated water or by breathing or swallowing contaminated dust and soil. Benzidine can also enter the body by passing through the skin. Some quantities of dyes made from benzidine may still be brought into the United States. These may contain small amounts of benzidine as a contaminant, or chemicals that may be broken down in the body to benzidine. If you use such dyes to dye paper, cloth, leather, or other materials, you may be exposed by breathing or swallowing dust, or through skin contact with dust. You may be exposed in a similar way if you work at or near hazardous waste sites.
Pathways for in the body
Benzidine can enter your body if you breathe air that has small particles of benzidine or dust to which benzidine is attached. It can also enter your body if you drink water or eat food that has become contaminated with benzidine. If your skin comes in contact with benzidine, it could also enter your body. Generally, it will take only a few hours for most of the benzidine to get into your body through the lungs and intestines. It may take several days for most of the benzidine to pass through your skin. Breathing, eating, or drinking benzidine-based dyes may also expose you to benzidine. Your intestines contain bacteria that can break down these dyes into benzidine.
Once in your body, only a small portion of benzidine will leave as waste in your urine and feces. Your body will change most of the benzidine into many different chemical forms (called metabolites), which dissolve readily in your bodily fluids and are easy for your body to remove. Some of these changed forms of benzidine appear to cause many of the chemical's harmful effects. Studies show that after benzidine has entered your body, most of it (and its changed forms) will be removed within a week.
Health effects of benzidine
Very little information is available on the noncancer health effects that may be caused by exposure to benzidine. Benzidine contact with your skin could possibly cause a skin allergy. Except for the cancer discussed next, benzidine has not been definitely shown to cause major adverse health effects in humans.
To protect the public from the harmful effects of toxic chemicals and to find ways to treat people who have been harmed, scientists use many tests. You should know that one way to learn whether a chemical will harm people is to determine how the body absorbs, uses, and releases the chemical. For some chemicals, animal testing may be necessary. Animal testing may also help identify such health effects as cancer or birth defects. Without laboratory animals, scientists would lose a basic method for getting information needed to make wise decisions that protect public health. Scientists have the responsibility to treat research animals with care and compassion. Scientists must comply with strict animal care guidelines because laws today protect the welfare of research animals.
Additionally, there are vigorous national and international efforts to develop alternatives to animal testing. The efforts focus on both in vitro and in silico approaches and methods. For example, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) created the NTP Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods (NICEATM) in 1998. The role of NICEATM is to serve the needs of high quality, credible science by facilitating development and validation—and regulatory and public acceptance—of innovative, revised test methods that reduce, refine, and replace the use of animals in testing while strengthening protection of human health, animal health and welfare, and the environment. In Europe, similar efforts at developing alternatives to animal based testing are taking place under the aegis of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM).
Benzidine can cause cancer. This has been shown in studies of workers who were exposed for many years to levels much higher than the general population would experience. It is important to note that most of the workers did not develop cancer, even after such high exposures. When cancer does occur, most often it is cancer of the urinary bladder. Some evidence suggests that other organs, such as the stomach, kidney, brain, mouth, esophagus, liver, gallbladder, bile duct, and pancreas, may also be affected. Experiments with animals have also shown benzidine to be a carcinogen (a cancer causing substance). The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the EPA have determined that benzidine is a human carcinogen. In addition, dyes made from benzidine, such as Direct Blue 6, Direct Black 38, and Direct Brown 95, have been shown to cause cancer in animals, and there is some evidence that they may cause bladder cancer in humans. DHHS has determined that Direct Black 38 and Direct Blue 6 cause cancer in animals, and IARC has also determined that Direct Black 38, Direct Blue 6, and Direct Brown 95 cause cancer in animals.
Health effects in children
This section discusses potential health effects from exposures during the period from conception to maturity at 18 years of age in humans. Potential effects on children resulting from exposures of the parents are also considered. Children might be exposed to benzidine if they eat small amounts of soil contaminated with benzidine. However, studies suggest that it is difficult to release benzidine once it becomes attached to most types of soils. Exposure by contaminated soil may occur if the children live in an area near a source of the chemical (such as a hazardous waste site that contains benzidine). There are no studies on health effects in children exposed to benzidine. There is no information on whether benzidine causes birth defects in children. It is unknown whether birth defects would occur in the newborn babies of animals that breathed or ate benzidine, or had it on their skin while they were pregnant. There is no information to determine whether children differ from adults in their sensitivity to the health effects of benzidine. There is indirect evidence that benzidine or its breakdown products can cross the placenta, but it is not known whether it can be transferred to the young through the mother’s milk.
Reducing risk of exposure to benzidine
If your doctor finds that you have been exposed to significant amounts of benzidine, ask whether your children might also be exposed. Your doctor might need to ask your state health department to investigate. Benzidine has no agricultural or food chemical uses, so exposure to it by eating contaminated food is not likely. Impurities in certain food dyes can be transformed inside the body to benzidine. Children may be exposed to benzidine if they eat small amounts of soil contaminated with benzidine. Children should be prevented from eating soil; make sure they wash their hands frequently, and before eating. Discourage your children from putting their hands in their mouths or from doing other hand-to-mouth activities.
Medical tests for exposure to benzidine
Several tests have been developed to help determine whether you have been exposed to benzidine. Although these tests must be performed by experts in special laboratories, your doctor can collect the blood or urine samples and send them to an appropriate testing facility. Benzidine and its breakdown products can be detected in your urine, but only within about 2 weeks after your last exposure. Benzidine and some of its changed forms will bind to proteins within your red blood cells, and this can be detected for up to 4 months after your last exposure. Benzidine in some of its forms can bind to the DNA found in most of your cells. There are extremely sensitive tests that can detect such binding; scientists continue to investigate whether these tests can detect benzidine only or other similar chemicals too. None of these tests, however, can predict whether harmful effects will occur later.
- The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
- Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods
- European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods
- Institute for Laboratory Animal Research
Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.