Benzene is a chemical solvent derived from petroleum used to manufacture a wide variety of products, including inks, dyes, plastics, detergents, pesticides and gasoline. Despite its sweet smell and colorless appearance, benzene is known to cause leukemia (bone marrow cancer) with chronic exposure, as well as anemia and immune deficiency. Even short-term exposure can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion and sometimes death when benzene is breathed or ingested. Workers in the oil, rubber, plastics, and chemical industries run the greatest risk of occupational exposure. However, anyone may be exposed when benzene spills or leaks from industrial sites into ground water, contaminating drinking water supplies. The federal government classifies benzene as a carcinogen; the Occupational Safety and Health Administration set strict limits on benzene exposure in the workplace.
Benzene – a “Class A” Carcinogen
We are exposed to it in some form nearly every day of our lives. But benzene is more than a common chemical – it has been classified as a Class A carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the Environmental Protective Agency (EPA). Repeated exposure to benzene has been proven to cause various forms of leukemia and a host of other health disorders, including but not limited to blood disorders, respiratory and skin problems, and other illnesses.
What Constitutes a Class A Carcinogen?
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Class A certification for benzene is no laughing matter. In fact, Class A carcinogens are those that are known and proven to be cancer-causing. Other Class A carcinogens include arsenic and asbestos.
Occupational Exposure Poses Danger to Oil and Gas Workers
This carcinogenic chemical can be ingested through the breath or the skin. The majority of benzene leukemia victims experience occupational exposure to benzene through their employment in the oil or petroleum industries. Pipe fitters, gas tank workers, refinery employees and chemical workers are all at risk for occupational exposure to this harmful chemical.
Unfortunately, it is hard to immediately detect dangerous occupational benzene exposure or to gauge its severity. Some reactions to benzene exposure, such as central nervous system toxicity, are immediate and severe. However, prolonged exposure to benzene can result in more insidious and less visible health problems with a long dormant period. These ailments include Hodgkin’s disease and various forms of leukemia. Benzene exposure can also lead to nonspecific ailments with flu-like symptoms. Thus, the negative effects of repeated and prolonged exposure to benzene may be misdiagnosed or overlooked for years or even decades after the exposure.
Oil And Gas Workers – Not The Only Victims of Benzene Exposure
Though benzene exposure is of greatest danger to those employed in the oil and gas industry, occupational exposure to benzene is possible in other professions. For example, there are many plastics, paints and dyes which contain benzene. In addition, various commercial solvents contain the dangerous chemical. Safety equipment is essential to workers in all industries who have the potential of prolonged benzene exposure. If you are concerned about whether you have been exposed to benzene, check the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for the chemicals you work with at your job. These MSDS should be available at your workplace; if they are not, contact a supervisor for access to that information.
Legal Options for Benzene-Related Illnesses
If you have experienced side effects of occupational or other benzene exposure, seek medical attention immediately. Early medical intervention will help to diagnose any benzene-related condition and alleviate immediate symptomology. In addition, consider contacting an attorney experienced in benzene litigation. A competent benzene lawyer may be able to help you collect damages which compensate you for your benzene-related injuries.
If you end up bringing a benzene-related case, be ready for an extended legal process including collection of your medical records in an attempt to disprove any pre-existing conditions, the use of an Agreed Medical Examiner (AME) to re-diagnose and verify your benzene-related condition, and a lengthy discovery process that will involve disclosing your medical and employment history. An experienced benzene litigator will shepherd you through this often confusing process and help you recover money for your benzene-related health problems.
Benzene – A Hidden Threat
Did you know that the toxic effects of benzene exposure can show up as late as 29 years after the first exposure? Clearly, the health risks of occupational or other benzene exposure are grave. Benzene, classified as a “Class A” carcinogen by the Environmental Protective Agency (EPA), is an extremely harmful chemical that is responsible for diseases such as Hodgkin’s disease, various respiratory and skin disorders, and even leukemia.
Though benzene has a strong odor, it is clear and colorless. It is contained primarily in paints, solvents and dyes, and occupational risk is greater in the oil and petroleum industry, where benzene is used in refineries. Exposure to benzene is also possible in printing presses and the paper and pulp industries.
Public and Private Benzene Claims Collect Big Compensation Dollars
If you have been injured by benzene exposure, take heart – benzene litigation is a growing field and has resulted in several multi-million dollar lawsuits in recent years. The biggest civil settlement ever in Arizona history was in a benzene case in which Unocal (Union Oil of California) agreed to pay $675,000 for benzene groundwater contamination in Tempe, Arizona. In December 2001, Exxon-Mobil was ordered to pay $8.2 million in civil penalties and additional monetary damages due to benzene groundwater pollution in New York City.
But cities and states have not been the only beneficiaries of large benzene settlements – individuals have also made inroads into compensation for benzene exposure and injury. The largest settlements have gone to the families of victims who died of benzene-related illnesses. For example, Mobil was forced to pay over $6 million to the family of a 68-year-old man who died of benzene-related leukemia.
Don’t Wait Too Long to Pursue Your Benzene Claim
If you have been stricken with a benzene-related illness or injury, don’t wait until you die to collect your rightful damages and compensation for toxic benzene exposure. Contacting an experienced benzene/environmental toxin litigator can help give you access to the compensation you deserve – compensation which can help defray the medical bills and pain and suffering associated with benzene and its many toxic effects. Clearly, no amount of money can ever restore your health or make up for the years of suffering you may have experienced at the hands of occupational or other benzene exposure, but pursuing a benzene claim can have more than monetary benefits – it can convince companies to be more responsible about the sale and promotion of products containing the toxic carcinogen benzene.
Remember to seek medical attention immediately if you are suffering from benzene exposure. The short- and long-term effects of benzene can be devastating to your health and your family’s security, so don’t put off that doctor’s visit if you suspect your recent health troubles are due to benzene poisoning. Unfortunately, benzene’s effects are insidious and often hard to detect. It’s up to you to seek appropriate medical attention and, if possible, pursue your benzene-related claim with a competent and experienced legal advisor.