One of the most commonly used chemicals nationwide is benzene, but despite this, it is highly hazardous and causes air pollution. Research by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services discovered that the chemical contained carcinogen, which means it causes cancer. The majority of people are exposed to benzene in industrial activities because it is widely used in industrial settings. Prolonged exposure to the organic compound causes leukemia, a blood disorder, and other health complications.
Suppose you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a blood disorder, leukemia, or other blood diseases, and you suspect benzene exposure to have been the cause. In that case, you probably have many questions regarding your legal rights. At Consumer Alert Now, we have helped many people in your current position in the past and helped them understand their legal options based on their situation.
What is Benzene?
Benzene is a colorless or yellow liquid (in room temperature) organic chemical compound with an aromatic odor and a highly volatile liquid, meaning it evaporates fast when exposed to air. The chemical is also denser than air, which makes it settle on low lying areas.
The chemical occurs naturally through sources like volcanoes and forest fires. Further, it is found in gasoline, cigarette smoke, and crude oil. The natural chemical is then released into the air through factory or vehicle emissions, gasoline stations, or charcoal-burning.
Benzene is among the top 20 most used organic chemical compounds in the country despite the federal government banning its use in pure form. It’s used in manufacturing solvents, detergents, rubber products, glues, other chemicals, dyes, some plastics, and drugs.
How Benzene Exposure Occurs
Persons without protection by safety gears and other precautionary measures working in industries that manufacture benzene or use it in making other products may be exposed to high benzene levels. Low-level exposure occurs in the air due to emissions from vehicles, factories, gasoline stations, and tobacco smoke. The chemical could also leak from hazardous waste sites or underground storage, containing higher compound levels.
Indoor air might also have a higher concentration of the chemical than outdoor air because of the products used indoors that contain benzene like glues, detergents, furniture wax, or paints.
If you suspect you have been exposed to this chemical, it’s detectable in the body by measuring your breath, urine, or even blood. The tests are recommended immediately after the exposure and might not detect low levels of benzene.
The Problem With Benzene
As per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), benzene is known to cause cancer. The agency regulates the amount of the compound occurring in the drinking water and environment. On the other hand, OSHA regulates the levels of benzene compound workers are exposed to in their work settings.
The health risks of benzene are not new to the industry because they have been known for a long time. Medical experts discovered the relationship between leukemia and the chemical in 1928. Further, a study by the American Petroleum Institute in 1948 showed that benzene causes leukemia, and no amount of exposure is safe. Benzene is widely used, although the federal government adopted a fifty times lower standard than the older standards to prevent high-level exposure.
In a 2005 study, the FDA discovered that soft drinks and other beverages contain benzoate salts like sodium and potassium, which act as preservatives to inhibit bacteria, yeast, and mold growth. When the salts are exposed to a particular amount of heat and light, they react with ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, to form benzene. The EPA now requires a maximum of five parts of benzene per million water parts, but many beverage making firms violate this mandate by exceeding the limit.
How Air, Soil, or Water is Contaminated by Benzene
The leading cause of benzene is the industry. However, various human activities are the cause of benzene contamination of the surroundings. The industrial sources of benzene contamination are:
- Poor disposal of products manufactured using benzene
- Factory spills and splashes
- Evaporation from gasoline stations
- Leaching from landfills
- Petroleum leaks and spillage from underground tank storage
- Burning fuel
Although the EPA measures led to the decline of benzene usage by industries, some industries still utilize the chemical without adhering to the standards to limit pollution. The industries that contribute most to benzene contamination of water, soil, and air are:
- Chemical plants
- Rubber production
- Oil refineries
Benzene in the air enters the soil when it rains or snows. Consequently, if the soil is contaminated first, the chemical leaves the ground to pollute the air as the water evaporates from the ground. Benzene in the soil can also contaminate underground water. With this in mind, it’s challenging to identify the source of exposure if you develop health-related problems associated with benzene.
The carcinogenic properties in benzene cause body cells not to work as usual. One way the chemical alters cells’ working is by destroying the DNA in the bone marrow, preventing it from producing enough red blood cells, causing anemia. Additionally, it causes loss of white blood cells and damages the immune system by changing antibodies’ blood levels.
The severity of poisoning stemming from exposure to benzene depends on the chemical levels, the manner you were exposed, duration of the exposure, age, and underlying health conditions. Many studies demonstrate that when human beings are exposed to high levels of benzene, they are highly likely to develop acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
Immediate Effects of Exposure to Benzene
After you have been exposed to high benzene levels, you will begin experiencing signs and symptoms within minutes or even hours. The common effects you are likely to encounter after inhaling or breathing benzene include:
- Death (in case of a high-level exposure)
- Irregular heart rate
When you consume foods or beverages containing vast amounts of benzene compound, the immediate effects include:
- Irregular heart rate
- Stomach irritation
Note that you can develop breathing problems after consuming foods or beverages with high benzene levels when the vomit is sucked into the lungs. Also, when exposed to the eyes, skin, or respiratory tract, the compound can irritate.
The signs and symptoms highlighted above don’t only occur after benzene exposure. Other factors can trigger similar effects. The best step to take is to go for an examination early to establish the symptoms’ cause.
Prolonged Health Complications of Exposure to Benzene
Exposure to benzene for a year or more, which is also called chronic exposure, can result in blood disorders and leukemia, mainly AML. Additionally, benzene alters the bone marrow’s DNA composition, leading to a reduction in red blood cells, resulting in anemia. Chronic exposure to the chemical can result in excessive bleeding or a weak immune system that exposes you to various infections.
Similarly, women who have had prolonged exposure to this compound have reported female reproductive system complications. Some of these long-term effects include a reduction in ovary size and irregular menstrual periods. The results of the chemical on men’s fertility and developing fetus remains unknown.
Besides, even though it’s unknown if children are more prone to exposure than adults, they both exhibit the same symptoms mentioned above when exposed to benzene.
Benzene exposure can also have effects on animals. Based on scientific studies, chronic benzene exposure causes decreased birth weights, delay in one formation, or damaged bone marrow in pregnant animals.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), benzene contains carcinogenic properties that cause cancer in humans. Chronic exposure through inhaling can lead to leukemia, which is the cancer of organs that form blood.
Reducing the Risk of Benzene Exposure
If you work in an industry that produces benzene or uses it in production, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has put measures for employers to follow to lower the workplace and surrounding areas’ risk of exposure. OSHA recommends controlling evaporation and preventing spills and splashes.
Industries have also been urged to utilize hoods and canopies and ensure proper ventilation coupled with personal protective equipment. However, if the engineering controls aren’t feasible, respirators and protective gear are encouraged.
People who don’t work in these industries but are at risk of benzene exposure can reduce exposure by limiting contact with gasoline and tobacco smoke. You are also discouraged from smoking indoors or near children.
Actions to Take After Benzene Exposure
If benzene has been released into the air, leave the contaminated area. An area with clean and fresh air reduces the risk of death resulting from inhaling benzene. When the chemical is released indoors, leave the building. However, if you are already outdoors and the chemical has been released, move to another area where the air is clean to avoid breathing contaminated or poisoned atmosphere.
If you think you have had a benzene exposure, follow these steps:
Remove Your Clothing
Immediately remove the clothing that has the benzene compound on it. If the exposed clothing must come out over the head, cut it off instead of pulling it over the head to lower the risk of breathing the chemical or contact with the skin or eyes, irritating.
Suppose you are helping someone else that has been exposed. In that case, avoid contact with the contaminated areas and help the person out of the clothing as fast as possible.
As mentioned earlier, benzene is a skin and eye irritant. So, if your skin is exposed to the chemical, wash it out using large amounts of water and soap. Doing so protects against any substances that come into contact with your body.
When benzene enters in your eyes, it causes blurred vision or a burning sensation. If you experience these side effects, rinse the eyes with plain water for ten to twenty minutes. You might want to consider washing your hands before removing them for those individuals who wear eye contacts. Don’t put the contacts right back without proper cleaning with water and soap. In the event of eyeglasses, you should wash them the same way before putting them back on.
Disposing off Your Clothes
Once you have washed, place the contaminated clothing in a plastic bag and dispose of them. When putting the clothing in the bag, avoid touching the contaminated areas, and when that is not possible, you can wear rubber gloves, use tongs or sticks to place the clothes in the bag.
Seal the bag and put it inside another plastic bag for disposal. By doing so, you protect other people who might unknowingly make contact with the contaminated bag. If you are lucky to have emergency personnel at the exposure scene, inform them of what you did with the contaminated. They might help dispose of the bags further.
Treating Benzene Exposure
There is no precise treatment or antidote for benzene poisoning. Medical practitioners rely on supportive medical care to treat exposure. As the person who has been exposed, it’s advisable to seek immediate medical attention to prevent the side effects of exposure to benzene.
The EPA warns that benzene contains carcinogenic properties. Unfortunately, many people, especially industrial workers, continue to be exposed to this organic compound every day.
Employers or industry owners must protect employees from unsafe benzene exposure. However, many of these employees still work under hazardous working conditions like lack of personal protective equipment, especially in oil refineries or gas stations where the risk of exposure is significantly high.
If you have been working in high-risk industries and are diagnosed with cancer or any other blood disorder stemming from hazardous benzene exposure, you can file a lawsuit to seek compensation for your damages. Many lawsuits have already been filed alleging that many companies or industries knew about benzene exposure causing cancer but failed to protect or warn about these risks. So far, many benzene lawsuits have resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements.
For instance, on 1st August 2018, New Jersey filed six lawsuits seeking compensation for damages stemming from the pollution of properties, underground water, and waterways running across the state. One of the primary pollutants mentioned in these lawsuits is benzene.
One of these lawsuits by the state was against Deull Fuel Co., which claims that a gas manufacturing plant near Intracoastal waterway discharged dangerous substances onto the channel. The chemicals moved into surface water and sediments.
Another lawsuit was filed by a farmer and mechanic on 13th august 2018 in Illinois against seven industries that utilize benzene in production. The plaintiffs accused the companies of manufacturing and distributing dangerous products and failing to warn consumers adequately about the dangers. Alan Cole alleged that their products caused him to develop AML and other health complications.
Oil Companies Allegedly Knew About the Risks
In the lawsuits that have been filed against various industries, it’s alleged that the companies knew about benzene being carcinogenic for decades. Still, instead of protecting their employees and the public, they denied and downplayed the risks. In a report published by the Center of Public Integrity in 2014, the petrochemical industry knew about the dangers as early as 1948 but colluded to fight scientific proof.
The report alleges that the American Petroleum Institute (API), a trade association representing gas and oil companies nationwide, paid $36 million for promising research that would say benzene is safe.
Rulings and Jury Awards for Benzene Lawsuits
In the last 28 years, several multimillion-dollar court rulings and jury awards have been witnessed. In 1990, a jury awarded a widow $34 million after Otis Mason died of leukemia. The lawsuit filed against Texaco Inc. alleged that the deceased died on 10th December 1979 after hazardous benzene exposure while working as a coast guard supervisor. Later on, a federal appeal was upheld, so the jury award was reduced to $21 million. In 1991, the widow who was the plaintiff accepted the reduced amount from the 10th appellate court.
The latest jury awards include one in 2016 when a Philadelphia awarded $824,000 to Louis DeSorbo to develop AML caused by benzene in printing solvents.
The other jury award was in 2015 where a Texas jury awarded Virgil Hood $8.2 million for developing AML due to benzene contained in DuPont paint products.
Similarly, in 2015, Nevada’s supreme court sustained a jury award of $7.5 million to Rick Lewis, a gas tanker driver for six years. The victim died after developing myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) due to hazardous exposure to benzene in gasoline.
Apart from jury awards, many plaintiffs have also received compensation through a settlement. Residents living in and around Roxana, Illinois, were awarded $4.83 million in a lawsuit against Shell Oil and affiliates. The suit alleges that the company’s oil refinery spilled at least 200,000 pounds of benzene for more than 25 years, polluting water and harming the costs of the residents’ properties. Shell and its affiliate ConocoPhillips settled the class action against them by residents in 183 properties affected by the chemicals between 1986 and 2017.
In 2017, the U.S. Steel approved an undisclosed settlement in a lawsuit filed by Michael Butts, a former mechanic of the company who developed AML, after being exposed to benzene. The suit had already been on trial for three weeks but was settled before a court ruling.
If you or someone you know has been exposed to unsafe benzene developing blood disorders like leukemia, you qualify to file a lawsuit to seek compensation. The suits can be against former employers who used benzene, like gas stations and railroads, oil and gas companies, and manufacturers of benzene products.
Recoverable Damages in Benzene Lawsuits
If you have been diagnosed with AML or a blood disorder like MDS, the doctor might not establish the disease’s source because their goal is to identify and treat. The best step to take is to reach out to Consumer Alert Now to evaluate the case and advice on the way forward.
Part of our analysis involves determining whether the cancer was caused by benzene. A thorough evaluation of your family history is done to establish the cause. If there is no history of the disease in your family, medical experts will begin exploring other causes like dangerous benzene exposure, and whether it’s occupational or otherwise. After a thorough evaluation, you will receive a scientific report on whether benzene was a factor that contributed to your injuries.
When it comes to filing a lawsuit, you have limited time. If the injury resulted from benzene exposure at your workplace, you should sue the employer within a prescriptive period. Failure to do so within the statute of limitations will result in loss of rights to pursue compensation. Therefore, file a lawsuit immediately you know benzene was the cause of your injuries and the companies responsible for the exposure.
We will also advise you on the best attorneys to hire for the case. You want to focus on treatment as attorneys handle your compensation. With the right attorneys representing you, your energy and time should be focused on recovery.
Suppose your attorneys provide strong evidence to prove that leukemia or blood disorder was due to benzene exposure. In that case, the defendant is liable, and the jury will award compensation for the injuries. Some of the damages the lawsuit can aid you to recover are:
- Burial and funeral costs when a loved one dies due to the benzene injuries
- Doctor bills and other related costs
- Loss of past, current, and future earnings
- Pain and anguish
Although these damages cannot bring a loved one back to life or help regain your well-being, they enable you to live comfortably.
Find a Benzene Lawsuits Attorney Near Me
If you have experienced signs and symptoms of benzene exposure or have developed a medical condition caused by hazardous benzene exposure, you need to visit the hospital right away. The exposure might have occurred at your workplace or after consuming a benzene product without adequate warning. You need to speak to Consumer Alert Now at 800-511-0747 to evaluate your options and help you find the right attorney for representation if you have a case.