Reproductive toxicity

Although some animal studies have shown benzene to be embryotoxic and fetotoxic (Murray et al., 1979; Nawrot and Staples, 1979; Kuna and Kapp, 1981), it is not a potent reproductive toxin (Snyder, 1987; IPCS, 1993) and in most cases effects only occur at concentrations resulting in maternal toxicity (Schwetz, 1983). Some studies have implicated benzene as a reproductive toxin in humans (reviewed in Barlow and Sullivan, 1982; ATSDR, 1997), but the studies are limited and no conclusions can be drawn. There are no data to suggest a reproductive risk at benzene concentrations encountered in the workplace or environment (Paustenbach et al., 1993).

Stucker et al. (1994) analysed the frequency of spontaneous abortion and paternal exposure to benzene (graded as <5 ppm and >5 ppm benzene). The frequency of spontaneous abortion was not significantly higher in either of the benzene-exposed groups compared to controls.

Benzene crosses the placenta and is present in cord blood in concentrations equal to or greater than that of maternal blood (Dowty et al., 1976).

A 22 year old pregnant worker developed severe pancytopenia and chromosome abnormalities following benzene exposure in the previous year. She had serious haemorrhagic complications during delivery but gave birth to a healthy boy. The following year she delivered a normal girl. All chromosome studies on the mother were abnormal but no aberrations were found in cytogenetic examination of the newborn boy (Forni et al., 1971b). Other cases of haemorrhagic complications of pregnancy have been reported, particularly in the older literature, in women with benzene toxicity (Hunt, 1979).

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