Diseases Related to Benzene Exposure
From Louisiana Attorneys Landry & Swarr
Benzene is a chemical found in a variety of materials and industrial processes, and different levels of exposure to it can have serious and dangerous effects. While leukemia is perhaps the most significant condition that can develop as a result of exposure to benzene, a number of other illnesses have also been linked with the chemical.
Benzene exposure can occur through physical contact with the chemical, ingestion, or breathing it. While each can have significant health effects, long-term exposure to benzene in the air is most commonly connected with the development of significant diseases later in life. People working in industries where benzene is commonly used or produced, such as those that work with oil and gasoline, rubber and plastic products, and a variety of solvents in cleaners, pesticides, paint, and glue, carry the highest risk for exposure.
When the body is exposed to significant levels of benzene (either small amounts over a long period of time or larger amounts all at once), the chemical can have serious negative effects on the blood, leading to a number of dangerous conditions.
This condition affects the plasma cells that are found in bone marrow. In normal, healthy bone marrow, the cells produce proteins to help fight off infection, but multiple myeloma causes excess cell growth, which eventually causes the development of tumors. Several symptoms can result, including brittle bones, anemia, fatigue, a higher risk of infection, kidney failure, and even loss of movement, if tumors grow close to the spinal cord.
The disease varies in the speed with which it develops, so treatment varies by case. Some people with the condition require no medication, while others are given medication to treat the symptoms. Radiation therapy can be helpful in treating tumors and pain in the bones, and bone marrow transplants have been used to slow the spread of the disease, although neither is effective in eliminating the condition entirely.
Aplastic anemia is a disorder that causes the body to produce an insufficient number of new blood cells, leading to weakness and fatigue. The condition occurs when damage to the bone marrow happens, as is common in people who have been exposed to high levels of benzene. Whereas healthy bone marrow creates a normal level of blood cells, the bone marrow in those who suffer from this condition is described as “aplastic” or “hydroplastic,” which mean that the marrow is empty and contains very few cells, respectively.
In addition to feelings of fatigue, aplastic anemia can result in easy bruising, frequent nose bleeds and extended bleeding from normal cuts, and dizziness and headaches, in addition to other symptoms. Cases of the condition can be either acute or chronic, developing over a long period of time or with a sudden onset of symptoms. In addition to the medication used to support patients’ immune systems (which are weakened by the condition), treatment typically includes blood transfusions and stem cell transplants, which can reduce the disease’s effects on the body and the symptoms the patient experiences.
In addition to aplastic anemia and multiple myeloma, benzene exposure has been linked with several other problems, such as myelodysplastic syndrome, thrombocytopenic purpura, myelofibrosis, and myeloid metaplasia. The first of these conditions covers a collection of illnesses that involve the improper forming of blood cells and decreased production of blood cells, which causes anemia and frequently leads to the development of leukemia. Myelofibrosis is another condition that affects the bone marrow, causing it to be replaced by scar tissue and decreasing its functioning in the body.
Most of the worst conditions that can develop from exposure to high levels of benzene affect the body’s blood production, and those experiencing symptoms should promptly contact their doctors, as these can be serious and life-threatening conditions.