Benzene in Tire Manufacturing
Benzene exposure occurs throughout the tire manufacturing process. The various workers who store, mix, load and unload solvents (including tire builders and tubers, laboratory technicians, and maintenance personnel) are all exposed to this carcinogen.
Benzene is a carbon-based chemical present whenever carbon is burned (such as in cigarette smoke and forest fires). Stronger forms of benzene, like those used in industry, are made by petrochemical factories using boiling hydrocarbons and hydrogen gas.
Benzene is also EPA classified as a “known carcinogen,” meaning that scientific studies have proven its carcinogenic properties. It causes myelogenous leukemia and non-Hogkin’s lymphoma.
Although benzene has been removed from most household cleaners and solvents, the industrial use of benzene solvents is still a source of exposure. Part of the solvents used to mix and form tire rubber, benzene poses serious cancer risks to tire plant workers. Workers at tire manufacturing plants are especially vulnerable to benzene fumes in high heat and high solvent use areas, such as at tire building machines.
Tire Builders, Benzene Candidates
Tire building machine operators work with the completed products of bead building, plystocking, and treading to build a tire up layer by layer on a drum. Between each of these “plies” (layers), tire builders brush a solvent to make sure plies stick together. Historically, this solvent (such as pyridine, other aliphatic solvents, and gasoline) contained levels of benzene unsafe without proper ventilation and protection.
OSHA and Safety Levels
The benzene dangers facing tire building machine operators has long been acknowledged by OSHA. OSHA changed its benzene regulation in 1987 from 10 ppm to 1 ppm (parts per million). OSHA realized the dangerous benzene levels that had persisted in the tire manufacturing industry and other industries involving rubber and benzene and passed the following guideline.
The employer shall make available a medical surveillance program for employees who are or may be exposed to benzene at or above the action level 30 or more days per year; for employees who are or may be exposed to benzene at or above the PELs 10 or more days per year; for employees who have been exposed to more than 10 ppm of benzene for 30 or more days in a year prior to the effective date of the standard when employed by their current employer; and for employees involved in the tire building operations called tire building machine operators, who use solvents containing greater than 0.1 percent benzene.
Despite these advances, there is no entirely safe level of benzene exposure.
Benzene Safety at Work
Tire workers should be equipped and trained on chemical safety for the benzene solvents they use. Workers at tire plants should know what to do in case of minor and major spills and have access to printed safety plans.
Tire plant employees should be provided respirators and trained in how to properly wear their respirator to reduce benzene inhalation. Benzene-retardant gloves should be provided along with proper overhead ventilation. The wearing of protective equipment should be required at all times an employee is on the floor. Eating and drinking should not be permitted anywhere there is a threat of benzene exposure.
Lawyers for Change
If you are suffering from the effects of leukemia or other benzene-related injury, please contact the Consumer Justice Group. Our network of benzene attorneys across the country can begin an investigation of a workplace and consumer goods for possible benzene exposure.
The Leukemia Health News is a service of the Consumer Justice Group.