Benzene – Have You Been Unknowingly Exposed?!?
Benzene is a natural constituent of crude oil, and is one of the most elementary petrochemicals. It’s a very important component for producing other types of chemicals such as styrene and phenol. Benzene also has a dark side; it is extremely carcinogenic and can become deadly upon human inhalation and absorption. Many people are often unknowingly exposed to the threat of inhaling Benzene and are at an increased risk of developing cancer and other types of diseases that are associated with the chemical compound. Many years of research and study have proven that specific groups are at an increased risk of exposure based on personal hobbies and occupation. This is because benzene was an undisclosed ingredient in many glues, paints, paint thinners, and many oil-based solvents used to clean metal and hard surfaces. And these are just a few of the many products which cause benzene exposure in the home.
Many career maritime workers have also been unintentionally exposed to potentially toxic and carcinogenic substances during the course of their job. One of the more deadly substances they are exposed to is Benzene, which is regularly found in large amounts in many cargoes on shipping vessels. When benzene is held in large amounts on shipping vessels, it has been known to escape the containers and affect the crew. Many ships transporting Benzene are regulated and require certain levels of safety, such as the crew learning the hazards and the preventative measures required when transferring, transporting, or storing Benzene cargoes. Unfortunately, Benzene still inadvertently escapes from containers and gets inhaled by much of the crew who handle the containers. If you’ve held a maritime job exporting, importing, or otherwise moving containers of petroleum-based solvents, there is a high likelihood of you being accidentally exposed to harmful chemicals such as Benzene.
Another group of people who could have been unknowingly exposed are those who live or were around chemical spills, be it in the ocean on an oil rig, or on land at a chemical plant. One of the more recent chemical spills was in Texas City, Texas in 2010; BP estimated that at least 538,000 pounds of chemicals and compounds — including at least 17,371 pounds of benzene — were released from the refinery during the 40-day period that the spill was uncontrolled. This shows the huge amounts of Benzene and other harmful chemicals that can be released unto an unsuspecting public. Criminal charges were eventually filed against BP stemming from these releases.
During the uncontrolled leaks from the BP Texas City plant, many people did not understand the risks associated with the uncontrolled release of hazardous chemicals. The effective range of how far the Benzene spread was roughly a five mile radius. The common thinking was that people in the affected area of a plant spill would know the risks involved and act accordingly, but it seems that the opposite is true. During the BP chemical spill, roughly 17,000 people were in the affected radius around the plant, but only 500 citizens who were affected took any course of legal action against BP. The remaining affected occupants did not take any action against BP because they ‘felt like the chemical spill was harmless and had no effect on their daily lives’. This kind of thinking causes more harm to the community than does the actual spill. To date, there have been an estimated 900 cases of disease caused by inhaling Benzene and other chemicals caused by the BP chemical leaks. That’s 5% of the affected area population; in simpler terms you have a 1/20 chance of contracting a life threatening disease if you are in the affected area. This goes to show that people in the affected area are at an extreme risk of contracting diseases related to the chemicals released.
Obviously a relatively small percentage of the population has been in an affected area of a chemical spill or has even worked a nautical job. But there is still a risk for everybody else, even those who work white collar jobs or sit at an office desk daily. Benzene has been detected at high levels in indoor air, particularly air that is being shared by a high number of people in a relatively small space. Equally important, building materials such as paints and adhesives contain high amounts of Benzene. Levels of Benzene are also higher in homes with attached garages than in those with detached garages. Basically people who spend more time indoors have a greater exposure to Benzene than those who work or spend a lot of time outside.
Many people are at a risk of being negatively affected by Benzene, but are not aware of its existence in their daily routine. A more precautionary and informative approach is crucial in trying to reduce the levels of exposure people are subject to every day. If you believe you have a Benzene-related illness such as leukemia, lymphoma or multiple myeloma, you should find immediate help in getting the compensation you deserve.