Benzene exposure is on the rise across America. As the levels of benzene production have risen over the years, so too has the level of public exposure to the harmful carcinogen. According to a recent study released by the EPA, levels of toxic chemical pollution nationwide rose by 5% in 2002, with many environmental groups alleging that benzene levels in the air may be up to five times higher than official estimates suggest. The problem is even more relevant for workers, as estimates show that 3 million workers per year are exposed to benzene, despite the rigid standards imposed on the workplace.
Benzene exposure puts many people at risk because it occurs in various environments and comes from numerous sources. Outdoor air contains low levels of benzene from tobacco smoke, automobile service stations, exhaust from motor vehicles, and industrial site emissions. Indoor air generally contains higher levels of benzene from the use of common household products that contain it, such as glues, paints, furniture wax and detergents. Industries and processes that still use benzene and constantly put their employees at risk include coke, gas, chemicals, paint, rubber, adhesive, printing and lithography, and petroleum. Many chemical laboratories still use benzene as a solvent and reactant in various applications despite knowing its link to health problems.
In an effort to monitor our breathable air supply, benzene exposure is heavily regulated by agencies such as OSHA and the FDA. The maximum benzene exposure level in the air is set by OSHA at 1 part per million (ppm) over an eight hour day and forty hour work week, and is not to exceed 5 ppm at any time. Benzene exposure can be detected in the body by blood and breath tests, and in the environment by simple monitoring equipment.
As many Americans have already discovered, benzene exposure is a serious and undisputed health hazard, and its effects are potentially life-threatening. Not only has research shown benzene to be a carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemical, but chronic (long-term) benzene exposure has been linked to various forms of leukemia by studies published as early as 1922. Even if cancer does not result, chronic benzene exposure can affect bone marrow and blood production. Acute symptoms of benzene exposure can include eye and skin irritation, dizziness, nausea, lightheadedness, headache and irregular heartbeat. In women, prolonged benzene exposure in the air can result in irregular menstrual patterns and decreased ovary size. Food or water contaminated with benzene can induce vomiting, stomach irritation, convulsions and even death.
If you have experienced benzene exposure and would like to learn more about your legal rights, contact us.