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.