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Measuring benzene to ensure worker safety

A wristband that measures a person’s exposure to benzene and a kind of pregnancy test that shows the presence of this dangerous substance in the body. By developing portable sensors and technology, TNO contributes to safety and health in the workplace.

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People may come into contact with substances of very high concern (ZZS) through their environment: substances that, for example, are carcinogenic or cause infertility. That is why TNO is working on the societal challenge of identifying exposure to these substances, deducing the health impact and devising ways to prevent exposure.

Measuring exposure to benzene

In certain occupations, especially in the chemical industry, workers are regularly exposed to benzene. For example, benzene - which is nowadays mainly produced from petroleum - is used, among other things, as a raw material for other chemicals and for materials such as rubber. It is also a component of crude oil, adhesives, petrol, detergents (surfactants) and cigarette smoke. Finally, volcanoes and forest fires can also increase the level of benzene in the air.

Years ago, scientists discovered that benzene is a carcinogen: it can cause leukaemia. Since then, it has been on the list of dangerous substances and employers are obliged to minimise the risks. The use of benzene is still very limited and the safety standards are high, because excessive exposure can have grave consequences.

Fast and personal point-of-care test

The employer is responsible for a safe working environment. In order to check whether its employees comply with the statutory limits, the benzene levels must be measured. Presently this process is rather cumbersome and it often takes one or more days before the results come back. This is particularly difficult offshore. That's why the American company SKC has been working with TNO to develop a fast and personal point-of-care test for benzene.

The test is similar to a pregnancy test, so that at the end of the day the employee can immediately see, using a small urine sample, whether the benzene limits have been reached. TNO is working on refining the method of analysis and the design of the device. SKC is contributing its knowledge of the market: how large and heavy can the sensor device be, for example, and what exactly should it be able to do? It is expected that SKC will introduce the device to the market in 2020.

Continuing development with partners

In a subsequent study TNO will focus on the application of wristbands for substances of very high concern that incorporate a benzene air sensor.

This is why TNO is working on a sensor that can measure benzene in air. We have demonstrated the measurement principle and are looking for partners to develop this technology into a portable sensor to measure benzene directly in one’s vicinity.

If you would like to work with us on the application of wristbands for substances of very high concern or learn more about our benzene research, then please contact us.

Contact

Drs. ing. Fred Hartendorf

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