Fact Sheet: Ethylbenzene


Brief Overview:
Contaminant: Ethylbenzene
Category:  Organic
MCL: 700 PPB
Source: Manufacture of styrene; industrial solvent
Effect: Fatigue, headaches, damage to eyes and other organs
Followup: Treat and retest quarterly
Treatment: Granular activated charcoal

Ethylbenzene is a colorless organic liquid with a sweet, gasoline-like odor. The greatest use – over 99 percent – of ethylbenzene is to make styrene, another organic liquid used as a building block for many plastics. It is also used as a solvent for coatings, and in making rubber and plastic wrap. Production of ethylbenzene has increased: from 6.9 billion lbs. in 1982 to 11.8 billion lbs in 1993. It is released to the air primarily from its use in gasoline. More localized may be due to waste water and spills from its production and industrial use.
From 1987 to 1993, according to EPA’s Toxic Chemical Release Inventory, ethylbenzene releases to water and land totalled over 761,000 lbs. These releases were primarily from petroleum refining industries. The largest releases occurred in Texas. The largest direct releases to water occurred in Virginia.

What happens to Ethylbenzene when it is released to the environment? Ethylbenzene will evaporate rapidly from water, and will be degraded by microbes. It binds only moderately to aquatic sediment and to soils. Thus, it may leach to ground water if released to land. Ethylbenzene has little potential for accumulating in aquatic life.

Short-term: EPA has found ethylbenzene to potentially cause the following health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the MCL for relatively short periods of time: drowsiness, fatigue, headache and mild eye and respiratory irritation.
Long-term: Ethylbenzene has the potential to cause the following effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL: damage to the liver, kidneys, central nervous system and eyes.

Treat and retest quarterly.

Granular activated charcoal in combination with Packed Tower Aeration.