Leukemia and Benzene
Benzene causes leukemia. Benzene as a cause of leukemia had documented since 1928 (1 p. 7-9). In 1948, the American Petroleum Institute officially reported a link between this solvent used in many of their industries used and cases of leukemia in their workers. Their findings concluded that the only safe level of benzene exposure is no exposure at all (2).
Benzene is a hydrocarbon (hydrogen and carbon) compound that is colorless, flammable, and has a slightly sweet smell in large quantities. Benzene is used in gasoline and household products (though now being reduced in both); it is one of the major carcinogens in tobacco smoke. Benzene has even found its way into in soft drinks.
Other names for benzene, sometimes used to mask chemical contents of a product, include: Benzol 90, bicarburet of hydrogen, coal naphtha, phene, phenyl hydride, polystream, and pyrobenzol.
Benzene’s Carcinogenic Classification
The Environmental Protection Agency has classified benzene as a “carcinogenic to humans” (earlier, now outdated EPA labels of “Class A” or “known carcinogen” carry the same status). In other words, the EPA has concluded without doubt that benzene causes cancer. But this has not stopped benzene from being in the Top 20 chemicals produced in the U.S.
Benzene Exposure and Current OSHA Levels
OSHA has set permissible exposure limit for benzene at 1ppm (part per million) over an 8-hour shift, not to be exceeded by 5 ppm for any period longer than 15 minutes. Still, many workers are exposed to higher levels (3).
This is especially true when outside factors such as car exhaust, forest fires, and factory leakages release benzene into the air. Short-term exposure to benzene causes dizziness, sleepiness, irregular heartbeat, headaches, and (in sufficient quantities) death. Long-term effects has been shown to cause aplastic anemia (a condition where the body ceases making red and white blood cells), birth defects in the children of expectant mothers, and leukemia.
Benzene Workplace Exposure
See also: Leukemia and the Workplace
Though use of pure benzene as a solvent has been federally banned for a number of years in the U.S., workers are still exposed to benzene through use of most petroleum solvents. Exposure to benzene, whether inhaled over years or absorbed through the skin, makes it 20 times more likely that you will develop acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).
In cases of microchip production facilities, atmospheric exposure levels are made worse by recirculating the clean room’s air. Instead of reducing benzene exposure, this increased exposure by making sure the contaminations remain in the air until they were absorbed by the skin or lungs.
Reducing Your Chances of Benzene-Related Leukemia
If you have skin contact with benzene, wash the area immediately. Change out of any benzene-contaminated clothes. Do not take these clothes home where you can expose others to their risks. Additionally, eating and drinking should never occur in areas of benzene exposure.
No specific cure or antidote for benzene poisoning exists. The most important thing for a person suffering from short-term effects is to seek immediate medical attention and to document the occurrence with your employer.
Lawyers for Change
If you are suffering from what you believe may be a benzene-related illness, do not hesitate to contact The Consumer Justice Group. We have lawyers across the nation ready to work and win for you. Let our benzene attorneys to begin investigation today.
The Leukemia Health News is a service of the Consumer Justice Group.