Benzene Exposure Facts

What is benzene?

  • Benzene is a chemical that is a colorless or light yellow liquid at room temperature. It has a sweet odor and is highly flammable.
  • Benzene evaporates into the air very quickly. Its vapor is heavier than air and may sink into low-lying areas.
  • Benzene dissolves only slightly in water and will float on top of water.

Where is benzene found and how is it used?

  • Benzene is formed from both natural processes and human activities.
  • Natural sources of benzene include volcanoes and forest fires. Benzene is also a natural part of crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke.
  • Benzene is widely used in the United States. It ranks in the top 20 chemicals for production volume.
  • Some industries use benzene to make other chemicals that are used to make plastics, resins, nylon and synthetic fibers. Benzene is also used to make some types of lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.
  • Benzene is also used to make some types of lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.

How is exposure to benzene possible?

  • Outdoor air contains low levels of benzene from tobacco smoke, gas stations, motor vehicle exhaust, and industrial emissions.
  • Indoor air generally contains levels of benzene higher than those in outdoor air.
  • The benzene in indoor air comes from products that contain benzene such as glues, paints, furniture wax, and detergents.
  • The air around hazardous waste sites or gas stations can contain higher levels of benzene than in other areas.
  • Benzene leaks from underground storage tanks or from hazardous waste sites containing benzene can contaminate well water.
  • People working in chemical plants, refineries and industries that make or use benzene may be exposed to the highest levels.
  • Benzene is often transported in tanks on barges and chemical ships.

How is benzene harmful?

  • Benzene can cause cells not to function correctly. For example, it can cause bone marrow not to produce enough red blood cells, which can lead to anemia. Benzene can also damage the immune system by changing blood levels of antibodies and causing the loss of white blood cells.
  • The seriousness of poisoning caused by benzene depends on the amount, route, and length of time of exposure, as well as the age and preexisting medical condition of the exposed person.

What are the immediate signs and symptoms of benzene exposure?

People who breathe in high levels of benzene may develop the following signs and symptoms within minutes to several hours:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Death (at very high levels)

What are the long-term health effects of benzene exposure?

  • Long-term benzene exposure, such as a year or more, will effect the blood. Benzene causes harmful effects on the bone marrow and can cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. It can also cause excessive bleeding and can affect the immune system, increasing the chance for infection.
  • Exposure to low and high levels of benzene containing products can cause cancers including AML leukemia, Multiple Myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes MDS, Aplastic Anemia (AA), , acute myelogenous leukemia, and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL).
  • Some women who breathed high levels of benzene for many months had irregular menstrual periods and a decrease in the size of their ovaries. It is not known whether benzene exposure affects the developing fetus in pregnant women or fertility in men.
  • Animal studies have shown low birth weights, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage when pregnant animals breathed benzene.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that benzene causes cancer in humans. Long-term exposure to high levels of benzene in the air can cause leukemia, cancer of the blood-forming organs.

How is benzene poisoning treated?

  • Benzene poisoning is treated with supportive medical care in a hospital setting.
  • No specific antidote exists for benzene poisoning.
  • The most important thing is for victims to seek medical treatment as soon as possible.

Crew Members Exposed to Asbestos

Asbestos has been used in the maritime industry for several decades. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines asbestos as “a mineral fiber that has been used commonly in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire-retardant.” Asbestos was often used in insulation of fire doors, around boilers and as lining in fire boxes. Due to the awareness of the dangers posed by asbestos exposure, the EPA and CPSC have banned several asbestos products. However, asbestos is still frequently found on sea-going vessels.

Crew members on ocean going ships and vessels who work in the engine rooms are at a high risk of asbestos exposure due to the poor ventilation in this area of the ship. Longshoremen may be exposed to asbestos when they load and unload cargo and ship repair workers required to tear out and update engine rooms, exhaust systems and asbestos covered pipes. Asbestos exposure on ships can be damaging to the maritime worker’s health and symptoms may not surface for 25-45 years.

There are no immediate symptoms of asbestos exposure, but workers who are exposed are at risk of developing chest and abdominal cancers and lung diseases. The longer the exposure to asbestos, the higher the chances of developing cancer or another serious disease. Mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest and abdominal linings, is caused by inhaling the most dangerous asbestos fibers, which are too small to be visible. Lung cancer is also caused by exposure to asbestos and the risk is even higher if the worker is a smoker.

One of the most common diseases associated with asbestos exposure is known as asbestosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, asbestosis can be defined as “a breathing disorder caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.” The Mayo Clinic goes on to explain that prolonged accumulation of asbestos fibers in the lungs can result in scarring of lung tissue and difficulty breathing.

The effects of long-term asbestos exposure may not surface for at least 20 to 30 years later. Damage and scarring that resulted from exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to stiffness in the lung tissue, which prohibits the lungs from contracting and expanding as normal. Once this stiffness occurs, the symptoms usually follow. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, decreased physical activity, coughing, chest pain and finger clubbing.

It is impossible to reverse the damage caused by asbestos exposure. There are remedies available that help treat the symptoms of asbestosis. Doctors often prescribe medications or supplemental oxygen. In some cases, the physician may recommend draining fluid from around the lungs. Severe cases of asbestosis may warrant a lung transplantation. Surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be an option for those afflicted with mesothelioma.

If you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos while working aboard a ship or vessel, you may be entitled to compensation under the Jones Act or remedies under the General Maritime Laws. Contact our law firm for a free consultation with a mesothelioma attorney who handles asbestos exposure injury lawsuits.

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Caused from Benzene Exposure

As a maritime worker, you are already aware of the dangers of your job. However, you may not have considered the fact that exposure to certain toxins could eventually result in a serious disease. If you are a barge worker, dock worker or offshore worker, you may have been exposed to a harmful substance known as benzene.

Benzene is defined as a colorless or light yellow liquid that evaporates into the air quickly. Benzene is found in most refined petroleum products, crude oil, gasoline, toluene, jet fuel, aviation gas, xylene and naphtha. Benzene on barges is especially dangerous not only due to its extremely flammable nature, but these toxic exposures can cause Multiple Myeloma, AML Leukemia, Aplastic Anemia (AA), Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, myelodysplastic syndrome or myelodysplasia (MDS), blood cancers and certain bladder cancers.

Even though benzene is known as a carcinogen, it still ranks in the top 20 chemicals for production volume. Workers can be exposed to high levels of benzene when they work with petroleum products. Benzene exposure usually occurs by breathing the toxin through your lungs or by absorbing it through your skin when working with solvents. Industrial solvents, gasoline fumes, oil and coal emissions and paint can all lead to significant benzene exposure.

It has been estimated that millions of workers are exposed to benzene every year in the United States. Even low levels of exposure can cause cancer, such as Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This type of cancer can occur at any age and is generally identified through enlarged lymph nodes, fever and weight loss. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a “cancer that originates in your lymphatic system, the disease-fighting network spread throughout your body.” Tumors often develop from lymphocytes, which is a type of white blood cell. This cancer is more than five times as common as other types of lymphoma.

The number of cases of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma has increased in the United States since the 1970s. In 2008, there have been 66,120 new cases of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and 19,160 deaths caused by this cancer. Some of the symptoms of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, according to the Mayo Clinic include:

  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Chest pain
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Severe itchy skin

The treatment optionsfor Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma typically include chemotherapy, radiation, stem cell transplantation, biotherapy, radioimmunotheraphy and interferon therapy. Recovery from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is possible, but the costs of medical care are often high. If you have developed Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma while working offshore, you may be entitled to compensation under the Jones Act or other General Maritime Law. You may be able to recover damages for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and mental anguish.