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BTEX: Risks and Control Measures

BTEX– the group of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes – is notoriously known for its contamination of soil and ground water. These elements are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) derived from petroleum. The elements typically affect water and land near natural gas production sites, gas stations, and above-ground storage tanks (ASTs) and under-ground storage tanks (USTs) intended for storing gasoline and other petroleum related products.

What is BTEX?

BTEX is the acronym of four compounds found in petroleum products: benzene, toluene, xylene, and ethylbenzene. BTEX is the natural component of crude oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, while some of these elements are used extensively in a number of manufacturing processes, including the production of synthetic materials, fuel additives, and consumer products.

The Anatomy of BTEX


BenzeneBenzene is a natural constituent of crude oil. The colorless and highly inflammable element contains high concentration of carcinogens. About 20 percent of the country’s exposure to benzene results from automobile exhaustion and industrial emissions. Benzene is also found in cigarette smoke which accounts for nearly 50 percent of the country’s passive exposure to benzene.


TolueneToluene is a naturally produced element of man-made petroleum products including oils, gums, paint solvents, and resins. Although the substance is usually safe to be used, inhalation of high volume of toluene may lead to various health problems, including damages to kidney and liver.


EthylbenzeneEthylbenzene is primarily used in the manufacturing of styrene and in aviation industry. As an additive, it is also found in paints, pesticides, inks, and synthetic materials. Chronic inhalation of ethylbenzene is known to have adverse impact on the blood, kidneys, liver, and lungs. Some laboratory tests also confirm central nervous system toxicity among animals exposed to ethylbenzene for an extended period.


XyleneXylene is a colorless, sweet smelling hydrocarbon element occurring naturally in petroleum, wood tar, and coal. The element is commonly used as a solvent in leather, printing, paint, and rubber industries. It is also found in cigarette smoke, airplane fuel, and gasoline in very small quantity. Depending upon the concentration of the substance and the length of exposure, exposure to xylene may lead to respiratory, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, and nervous problems.

All the elements in BTEX are VOCs, and thus may easily vaporize. Moreover, these elements can readily move through the air, contaminated groundwater and soils, thus affecting the air quality and water resources environment in the nearby homes or communities.

BTEX in Groundwater

BTEX may originate from a number of sources directly affecting groundwater resources. Manufacturing plant spills, gasoline spills, leaks from underground storage tanks, landfills, and overfills of storage tanks are common sources of BTEX contamination in groundwater. Through these sources, BTEX can seep into the groundwater and contaminate the resources intended for drinking and bathing. Also, BTEX can mix with soil particles and enter into the water resources through run off and seepage.

BTEX in Groundwater

Since all of the BTEX compounds are toxic, the consumption of BTEX infected water may produce immediate health effects. These symptoms, ranging from mild to severe nature, may even lead to serious health conditions including brain damage and leukemia.

Although groundwater contaminated with BTEX compounds is difficult to remediate, certain methods could remove BTEX to acceptable levels.

Risks of BTEX Exposure

People are almost always at risk of exposure to BTEX compounds. However, as volatile organic compounds are commonly found in auto exhaust and industrial units, people living in urban areas are more at risk than people in a rural setting. Besides the daily common exposures, landfills, fuel spills from auto accidents, overfills and leakage of storage tanks are also common sources for BTEX compounds to move through soil and make way into the groundwater, public and private water reservoirs.

The Impact of BTEX

Exposure to BTEX within certain concentration levels over short period of time is less likely to cause health damages. However, prolonged exposure to high concentration of BTEX is toxic and can have mild to severe effects on health including damages to kidneys, nervous system, liver, eyes, and exacerbation of respiratory conditions.

Control Measures

Control MeasuresThe Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. (EPAUS) has established comprehensive guidelines for an acceptable level of chemical contaminants water and industrial sites. By running laboratory test for BTEX concentration, businesses can determine ‘Total BTEX’ – the sum of the concentration of each constituent of BTEX. Using the test, they can determine the relative risks of their production processes to find out the need for remediation of the site.

Besides, households can reduce their exposure to BTEX by using water having concentration below the Maximum Chemical Level (MCL). If the water contains BTEX concentration higher than MCL, they can apply treatment procedures to all household water to reduce BTEX exposure and risks.

Whether you’re looking to run an industrial BTEX test or to find out BTEX concentration in your domestic water, we provide affordable testing services to meet the needs of all kinds of consumers. Using our expert services, not only can you determine the level of toxicity in your water resources, but also get expert advice for remediation. Contact us online or give us a call at (863) 682-5897 today!