Benzene is a volatile organic compound; most commonly it is a colorless liquid with a sweet smell that is highly flammable. Unfortunately, the effects of benzene on the human body are anything but sweet.
Benzene is formed through natural processes, as well as the activities of human beings. Forest fires and volcanoes produce a certain amount of benzene, as do diesel exhaust, cigarette smoke, crude oil and gasoline.
Benzene is among the top 20 chemicals used to make other chemicals in the United States, and those chemicals, in turn, are used to make synthetic fibers (plastic, resin, nylon, etc.), as well as explosives, chemicals used in photography, pesticides, paint, adhesives, drugs, rubber, gasoline additives, solvents, printing processes, lithography and food processing.
In other words—many of the things we use on an everyday basis.
Could You Have Been Exposed to Benzene?
Benzene has been heavily used in the South’s petrochemical industry for years, so unfortunately many Louisiana families have been affected by this workplace exposure.
Although you could potentially be exposed to very small amounts of benzene if you spend lots of time outdoors (Benzene is naturally found at low levels in air, water and soil), the amount you would receive from being outside is negligible.
Across the nation, about half of those exposed to benzene are exposed through cigarette smoke.
If you happen to live close to a gas station, industrial facility or hazardous waste site, your exposure to benzene would probably significantly increase.
If you use lots of products such as furniture wax, paint, detergent and glue inside your home on a regular basis, you might also be exposed to benzene, although probably not a significant amount.
Obviously, if you smoke, or live with a smoker, you are being exposed to benzene regularly.
Those who work at a facility which produces benzene, or facilities which use benzene in their products, such as petrochemical manufacturing plants, pharmaceutical plants, sites which refine petroleum, gas stations or facilities which manufacture tires are at a much higher risk of benzene exposure.
Further, if you are a steel worker, firefighter, lab tech, printer or shoemaker, you could be exposed to benzene in the course of your workday.
Symptoms of Benzene Exposure
Benzene is a human carcinogen, according to the National Toxicology Program’s “Fourteenth Report on Carcinogens,” and is a known risk for leukemia, and possibly non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
High levels of benzene exposure can cause death, and even lesser exposure levels can cause the following:
Short-term Exposure to High Levels of Benzene Through Consuming or Breathing the Chemical:
- Rapid heart rate;
- Rapid breathing;
- Unusual sleepiness;
- Chest tightness;
- Paralysis, and
Breathing Benzene on a Regular Basis for a Long Period of Time (work exposure):
- Blurry vision;
- Shrinkage of ovaries in women;
- Menstrual irregularities in women;
- A decrease in the number of red blood cells;
- Excessive bleeding;
- Depression of the immune system;
- Cardiac arrest, and
- Irreversible brain damage.
Benzene Spilled Directly on the Skin:
- Dry skin;
- Scaly skin
Why Quick Medical Attention is Crucial
If you are inadvertently exposed to benzene, or if you have been regularly exposed to benzene through your work & you have any adverse symptoms, it is extremely important to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Even if you had some of the more minor symptoms of benzene exposure, then those symptoms disappeared, it is important to bring this to a doctor’s attention.
In the event of a high level of benzene exposure, you should remove your clothing, and wash your entire body with soap and water. After doing this, you should seek medical attention immediately.
If suffering from blurry vision, or burning eyes, rinse the eyes with plain water for at least 10-15 minutes.
Seal contaminated clothing inside a plastic bag, then seal that plastic bag inside another plastic bag. It may be necessary to retain the clothing for testing, but if not, it is very important to dispose of them in a manner which will not expose anyone else.
After you have taken care of your health, you should speak to an experienced benzene attorney who can ensure your rights are protected if you were negligently exposed to this harmful, yet common chemical.