Benzene is a colorless, aromatic liquid that evaporates rapidly under ordinary atmospheric conditions. The great majority of the benzene produced in the United States is produced by the petroleum and petrochemical industries, with the remainder produced by the steel industry as a byproduct of coking operations. Once used as a solvent itself, benzene is today a common component of solvents, de-greasers and mineral spirits. It is also contained in products used to clean and de-grease tools, clean machine parts, and de-rust metal parts. Benzene is also used in the production of plastics, rubber, resins, nylon, glues, dyes, paints, detergents and pesticides. It naturally occurs in crude oil and is a component of petroleum products such as gasoline.
Benzene is a toxic substance. The Environmental Protection Agency has classified benzene as a known human carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) have also determined that benzene is a human carcinogen. Work-related exposure to benzene has been linked to the development of blood cancers and blood disorders several years after exposure. Examples of blood diseases caused by occupational benzene exposure include acute myelogenous leukemia, myelodysplastic syndrome (which can progress into acute myelogenous leukemia over time), aplastic anemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, chronic myelogenous leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Please call the Law Offices of Nadrich & Cohen at 1-800-722-0765 if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with:
- Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)
- Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)
- Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)
- Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)
- Aplastic Anemia
- Multiple Myeloma
- Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS)
- Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL)
Workplace Exposure to Benzene
Documented cases of benzene-related blood diseases date back to before the turn of the Twentieth Century. As early as 1928, health experts reported a correlation between exposure to benzene and leukemia. In 1948, the American Petroleum Institute published a report linking benzene exposure to leukemia, concluding that the only safe level of benzene exposure is no exposure at all. Since that date, various studies have demonstrated that a number of trades – including petroleum refinery and petrochemical workers, plastics workers, steel workers, painters, gasoline distribution workers, chemical workers, rubber workers, and printing press operators – have an increased risk of developing leukemia and other blood cancers and blood disorders as a result of their work-related exposure to benzene.
Workers who work with or around benzene or related solvents and chemicals may be exposed to benzene by inhaling vapors that evaporate from the chemicals. Workers can also absorb benzene through their skin from touching or handling solvents and chemicals – for example, by using rags soaked with solvents or mineral spirits, cleaning tools with solvents, or accidentally splashing solvents on the skin. Liquid Wrench is one popular brand of mineral spirits that contained benzene. Studies have shown that even relatively low levels of benzene exposure can be related to the development of leukemia and other blood cancers and blood disorders.
What follows are descriptions of some of the industries where benzene and benzene-containing products are commonly used. This is not intended as an exhaustive list, but instead gives some examples of how workers can be exposed to benzene on the job.
- Petroleum refineries and petrochemical facilities
- Chemical and plastics plants
- Paint manufacturers and the painting industry
- Rubber and tire manufacturers
- Shipping docks and transport facilities
- Automobile mechanics and body shop workers
- Asphalt manufacturing, paving, and roofing
- Steel industry
- Printing Industry
- Other Trades
Petroleum Refineries and Petrochemical Facilities
Petroleum refineries and petrochemical facilities produce a variety of benzene containing products, including gasoline, kerosene, distillate fuel oils, residual fuel oils, and lubricants. Benzene is a component of crude oil and is created through a number of processes, among them fractionation, straight distillation, and cracking. Benzene and related products are transported from the refinery via rail cars, trucks, barges and/or tankers.
A variety of trades in the petroleum refining industry may face exposure to benzene on the job. Maintenance workers, unit operators, pipe fitters, welders, electricians, and laborers are examples of trades that could be exposed to benzene. These trades and others who work around the pipes and holding locations during plant “shutdowns” and “turnarounds” risk exposure. Tanker drivers and others involved in the transport of benzene from refineries also risk exposure.
Chemical and Plastics Plants
Benzene is used in the manufacture of numerous products, including polymers, resins, and plastics such as Styrofoam and in the production of nylon and other synthetic fibers. Benzene is also a component in other chemical-based products, including some types of lubricants, dyes, detergents, and pesticides. Butadiene, found as an intermediate in the oxidation of benzene and other fuel components, is used in styrene-butadiene copolymer production and in the production of synthetic elastomers.
Workers that perform maintenance around the pipes and holding locations during “shut downs” and “turn-arounds,” including such trades as maintenance workers, operators, pipefitters, welders, laborers and electricians, risk exposure to benzene. Warehousemen and those who work in the shipping and receiving department also risk exposure to benzene containing products.
The plastics industry uses significant amounts of benzene during the manufacturing process. Benzene is used as an additive during the production phase of plastic, resin, and polymer products.
Workers that perform maintenance around the pipes and holding locations during “shut downs” and “turn-arounds,” including such trades as maintenance workers, pipefitters, welders, and electricians risk, exposure to benzene.
Rubber and Tire Manufacturers
Benzene-containing solvents are used in the manufacture of tires and other rubber products. Benzene fumes are created throughout such plants by manufacturing processes that generate heat, causing the evaporation of benzene into the air and potentially exposing production and maintenance workers in the plant. Benzene-containing solvents and other raw materials are typically shipped into the receiving unit of such plants, risking exposure among workers employed in shipping and receiving. Maintenance workers, laborers and electrical repairmen may also use benzene containing solvents to clean and repair machinery. Their work also takes them to areas throughout the plant where they may be exposed to benzene vapors from other processes.
Rubber workers manufacture neoprene, gaskets, tubing, belting and other rubber products. Processes involving the use of heat can emit significant amounts of benzene vapors. Workers at tire manufacturing plants can be exposed to benzene vapors in areas that are associated with heat and high solvent use. Rubber batches are put through a number of processes to create tires including extrusion, calendaring, curing and product fabrication. Benzene fumes are created when heat and solvents are used to form and coat the rubber. Laborers and workers who use solvents to finish and repair tires are also at risk of exposure to benzene containing solvents.
Shipping Docks and Transport Facilities
Benzene and benzene-containing products are stored in drums and transported from their plants of manufacture by tanker, railcar, barge, and/or truck to their destination. Workers involved in the transport of benzene are at risk of exposure, particularly from leaks and spills and from benzene fumes emitted from the storage drums.
Warehousemen, truck drivers, dock workers, and bargemen are examples of some of the trades that risk exposure to benzene during the shipping process.
Automobile Mechanics and Body Shop Workers
Auto mechanics and body shop workers may be exposed to benzene on the job in a variety of ways. For example, benzene-containing solvents can be used by mechanics to clean brakes, fuel and hydraulic systems. Body shop workers can be exposed through solvents and mineral spirits used to clean tools. Machine parts can be “de-greased” by washing them using solvents or mineral spirits, or by using a de-greasing machine. Workers can also be exposed to benzene vapors from exhaust fumes emitted from running engines.
Asphalt Manufacturing, Paving and Roofing
The roofing and paving industries both use hot asphalt to create weatherproof surfaces on roofs and highways. Asphalt is a petroleum-based product containing benzene that, when heated, releases benzene vapors into the air.
Examples of trades that risk exposure to benzene in asphalt manufacturing, paving, or roofing include hot mix plant workers, commercial/industrial roofers, and asphalt pavers. Exposure can occur by working around the heated asphalt product and by using solvents to clean or thin out the hot asphalt mix.
Benzene vapors can be emitted through the coking process, which is often utilized by the steel industry in the production of iron and steel. The process of making steel involves the use of a coke oven to heat and convert coal to coke, a hard substance made of carbon. During this process, the heating of the coal in a coke oven releases a coke oven gas that contains benzene. Coke by-product plants can convert the coke oven gas to a liquid state to make fuels, fertilizers, solvents, and other products. Thus, trades working around coke ovens risk exposure to benzene.
Historically in the printing industry, benzene-containing solvents were used in the ink solution and to clean the printing machines. Solvents can also be applied to a rag and used to clean printing machines. Press operators and maintenance workers are two examples of trades in the printing industry that risk exposure to benzene.
There are other occupational settings where workers risk exposure to benzene and other toxic solvents and chemicals on the job:
- In shoe manufacturing, benzene is used in the process of cementing rubber soles to shoes. Some of the earliest reports of blood poisoning as a result of benzene exposure arose from studies of workers in the shoe manufacturing industry.
- In foundries, workers can be exposed to benzene containing products through the use of solvents to clean various machines. Benzene is also used as a component in the paint sprayed on molded parts in the finishing process. Painters, laborers, maintenance workers and line workers are a few examples of trades that could be exposed to benzene.
- In the railroad industry, brakemen who spot tank cars in petroleum refining and petrochemical facilities that use, store, manufacture, and/or distribute benzene and/or benzene-containing products risk exposure to benzene.
If you or a loved one has suffered as the result of Benzene poisoning, please contact a Benzene exposure attorney at Nadrich & Cohen, LLP immediately.