Risk of ALL in Children Exposed to Medium to High Levels of 1, 3-Butadiene and Benzene


Elaine Symanski’s article “Air Toxics and Early Childhood Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia in Texas, a Population based case control study” used Texas’s Texas Cancer Registry to study whether there was a statistical relationship between childhood ALL and environmental exposures to benzene, 1, 3-butadiene and polycyclic organic matter (POM). Texas was chosen because leukemia is a leading childhood cancer at 32.2% of cases in children 0-14 years from 2007-2011 and “because of its extensive road traffic and congested roadways in and around large urban areas, abundant number of petrochemical plants, some of the largest petroleum refineries in the US and active seaports.”


The results indicated that there was a positive association between ambient air exposure to 1, 3-butadiene and ALL and slightly elevated for exposure to POM or benzene however, the results were not statistically significant. Therefore, according to at least this study, there appears to be a relationship between early life exposure to 1, 3-butadiene and ALL but not as strongly for benzene and PM either separately or in a co-pollutant model.

It should be noted that 1, 3-butadiene and benzene are both classified by the International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC) as human carcinogens, so the result was not unexpected. However, the idea that children whose parents and who themselves are not directly exposed specifically to these carcinogens are still at risk of cancer, and in some cases actually developing cancer.

It should further be noted that the study did not look at the disease most commonly associated with benzene exposure—AML. It has been found in previous studies that high ambient exposures to benzene and 1, 3.-butadiene saw increased incidence of AML and ALL in Californian children (Heck et al.) and AML in Southeast Texan children (Whitworth et al.).

Despite these findings of ambient exposures to 1, 3-butadiene and benzene causing leukemia in U.S. children, at the time of this article there is no effort on the part of the relative state legislatures to require decreased ambient levels around petrochemical facilities.