Benzene, a natural component of petroleum and coal, is one of the most common industrial chemicals used in the United States. At normal temperatures, it’s a colorless liquid with a sweet smell; in fact, benzene is responsible for much of the odor of gasoline. Benzene evaporates quickly when exposed to air, and is highly flammable.
Benzene was once used as an industrial solvent. Before the 1950s, it was an ingredient in household products such as paint thinners, spot removers, and adhesives. However, it was eliminated from those products once its dangers were better understood.
In addition to being a fuel additive, benzene is most often a building block in more complex organic chemicals, which are then used in manufacturing dyes, plastics, drugs, pesticides, detergents, and other materials.
Why Benzene Is Dangerous
Benzene has severe effects on human biological functions. Exposure to it can directly hurt bone marrow and essential organs, including the liver, heart, brain, kidneys, and lungs.
In addition, benzene is known to damage DNA. The result is a decrease in fertility and an increase in the risk of birth defects, and a cancer trigger in individual cells. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services puts it simply: “Benzene is known to be a human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in humans.”
Specifically, exposure to benzene has been linked to the following types of cancer:
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)
- Aplastic anemia
- Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
- Acute non-lymphocytic leukemia (ANLL)
Preliminary—but not conclusive—evidence has also linked benzene to these cancers:
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
How Benzene Exposure Occurs
People can be exposed to benzene in the general environment or at work.
One major source of benzene exposure is cigarette smoking. Studies suggest that burning tobacco (including secondhand smoke) is responsible for about 50 percent of the exposure to benzene in the United States. Poorly-ventilated areas where smoking is permitted may have even higher benzene levels.
Additional environmental sources for benzene exposure include motor vehicle exhaust, gas stations, and contact with contaminated water.
Long-term exposure to benzene is primarily a workplace hazard in the United States. Starting in the 1950s, there have been significant efforts made to reduce the risks of exposure to this dangerous chemical. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set standards for the maximum permitted concentration of benzene in workplace air, and also specifies protective gear to be used when working with the chemical.
Nevertheless, some of the most worrying exposures to benzene happen in the workplace. The following people tend to be most at risk from accidental or chronic exposure to benzene:
- Railroad employees
- Truck drivers
- Oil and gas extraction workers
- Refinery workers
- Industrial factory employees
- Maritime workers
- Pesticide manufacturing employees
- Military personnel and veterans
All experts agree there's not a safe level of benzene exposure. Grave injuries can result from even minor contact with this toxic chemical.
What to Do If You Have Health Problems Due to Benzene Exposure
Symptoms of benzene exposure aren't immediate. It may take up to 20 years from the time you were exposed to when you develop signs of a serious illness.
When you first suspect your cancer or other ailment is due to benzene exposure, contact an experienced toxic tort attorney. Your lawyer can investigate your circumstances and help determine whether you have a legal claim against a business or organization for failing to protect you. A lawsuit can:
- Allow you to obtain appropriate medical care for your condition.
- Provide compensation for lost income if you cannot work.
- Pay for your pain and suffering.
- Cover any out-of-pocket expenses incurred due to your illness.
- Compensate family members if a loved one dies due to a benzene-related condition.
The attorneys at Lattof & Lattof have extensive experience with toxic chemical exposure claims, including benzene exposure lawsuits. We are able to handle cases on behalf of injured people across the United States from our Mobile, Alabama location. All of our work is done on a contingency fee basis—nothing is charged until an award is granted.
Contact us right away to see how our years of experience can help guide you toward the best resolution for your claim. Your first consultation is absolutely free and carries no obligation to hire us.