What Is Benzene?
Did you know one of the most widely used chemicals in the United States is classified as carcinogenic to humans? Benzene is a colorless, highly flammable chemical that the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies as a carcinogen, or cancerous to humans.
How is Benzene used?
Benzene is a starting material in making other chemicals including lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides. It is also a natural part of crude oil, gasoline and cigarette smoke. The chemical is also naturally occurring in volcanoes and forest fires. Other uses involving benzene include:
- Emissions motor vehicle exhaust
- Burning coal and oil
- Dry cleaning
- In making plastics
Benzene linked to serious health effects
Exposure to this toxic chemical has the potential to cause a range of side effects, which can be acute, chronic and even deadly.
The overexposure of benzene has the potential to disrupt the standard functions of cells and causes them to malfunction. In fact, the blood receives the major effect of benzene from long-term exposure of a year or more. Benzene also causes adverse effects on the bone marrow and prevents the bone marrow from making enough red blood cells. These effects can lead to anemia, a condition that presents when there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissue.
A change in blood levels of antibodies can cause the loss of white blood cells. Also, it can damage the immune system, increasing the chance of infection.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, whose goal is to identify causes of cancer, reveals that based on sufficient evidence, benzene causes acute myelogenous leukemia. Acute Myelogenous Leukemia is a slowly developing and aggressive disease of the blood and bone marrow.
Some of the other cancers linked with benzene include the following:
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
- Hairy cell leukemia (HCL)
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL)
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Multiple myeloma
- Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)
- Aplastic anemia
Other effects associated with Benzene exposure
Women occupationally exposed to benzene suffer a decrease in the size of the ovaries as well as menstrual problems. Additional side effects associated with benzene exposure include:
- Abnormal bleeding
- Excessive bruising
- Reduced tolerance to exercise
- Weight loss
- Bone or joint pain
- Infection and fever
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Enlarged spleen, lymph nodes and liver
Where are people exposed to Benzene?
Benzene exposure can come from both industrial and natural sources. However, people who work in industries that make or use benzene such as oil refineries, rubber industries, chemical plants, shoe manufacturers, coke manufacturing, gasoline-related industries or steel plants face the highest level of benzene exposure. In fact, approximately 3 million workers in the United States risk exposure to Benzene every year at the workplace.
Breathing in air that contains benzene is the most common way people are exposed. Indoor air typically contains higher levels of benzene compared to outdoor air. When considering outdoor exposure to benzene, be cautious around hazardous waste sites or gas stations as these areas can contain higher levels of benzene than other areas.
Benzene can also be absorbed through the skin during contact with a source such as gasoline. However, because liquid benzene evaporates quickly, this type of exposure is far less common.
Smoking cigarettes and second-hand smoke are important contributors to benzene exposure. In fact, half of the exposure to benzene in the United States comes from cigarette smoke.
Does Benzene exposure always cause harm?
Many factors will determine if someone who was exposed to benzene is harmed because of it. This includes:
- The amount of exposure
- The duration of the exposure
- The way the individual came in contact with the chemical (through the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, across the skin) and
- Any pre-existing medical conditions
Federal and state regulations have decreased exposure limits of benzene at the workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) monitors and regulates benzene exposure in industrial settings to help protect workers from suffering harm caused by this hazardous chemical.
Immediate signs and symptoms from being exposed to benzene
Breathing in high levels of benzene may cause the following signs and symptoms within minutes to several hours:
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Death (at very high levels)
If you are experiencing any of these benzene exposure symptoms mentioned, it is important you contact your doctor. Doctors use several tests to measure benzene levels in your blood, breath or urine to determine overexposure to benzene. However, these tests must be performed shortly after exposure for accuracy.
How The Carlson Law Firm can help
Here at The Carlson Law Firm, we understand that when a loved one is injured, the entire family is affected. In many workplace injury cases, the injured is the breadwinner of the family. Filing a benzene exposure injury claim can help the injured, and their families recover for their losses including past and future medical expenses, lost wages, pain, suffering and more.
If you or a loved one was exposed to benzene and are suffering from a benzene caused illness from long-term exposure, we want to help. Our qualified Benzene Lawyer has the experience and skills to help you navigate the complex system and work tirelessly to get the results you need to move forward with your life. Contact us today for a free case evaluation. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We care, we can help.
- Written by Adriana Torres