Leukemia is the term used to describe certain cancers in the blood cells. There are individual types of leukemia that are classified based on the type of blood cell where the cancer develops, and how quickly it progresses. One type of leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia (AML) has been linked to high levels of exposure to benzene – a toxic chemical.
What is Benzene?
Benzene is a chemical that is common in the United States. In fact, it is one of the 20 most commonly used chemicals in the U.S. While it can occur naturally, it is more likely used as an ingredient for:
Benzene occurs naturally in gasoline, crude oil, and cigarette smoke.
In its raw form, benzene is a colorless liquid with a sweet odor. It is highly flammable and evaporates quickly. Because benzene vapor is heavier than air, it can sink to low-lying areas and will float on the surface of water.
Why is Benzene Dangerous?
Benzene is dangerous because it interferes with the body’s normal functions. It can interfere with bone marrow and red blood cell production, which causes anemia. It can also change blood levels in certain antibodies, which causes a loss of white blood cells. This further compromises the immune system.
Exposure to benzene can also cause the bone marrow to make abnormal cells. These cells are leukemia. Over time, leukemia cells crowd out normal red and white blood cells and platelets because they don’t die when normal cells would. When this happens, the body and remaining cells cannot do what they need to.
Understanding Leukemia Risk
Leukemia accounts for 3.8 percent of all cancer-related deaths. According to the National Cancer Institute, there may be as many as 61,000 new leukemia diagnoses this year. Estimates also suggest that more than 22,000 people will die this year due to leukemia.
AML – the type of leukemia most often linked to benzene exposure is an aggressive form of cancer that requires immediate treatment. Treatment options include:
- Chemotherapy and Stem Cell Transplant
- Targeted Therapy
- Drug Therapy
Unfortunately, even with timely treatment, AML is certainly an aggressive and damaging form of cancer. The American Cancer Society lists the overall five-year survival rate among AML patients at 27.4 percent. This is a survival rate that is certainly disheartening.
Who is At Risk of Benzene Exposure?
The primary mode of exposure to benzene is inhaling air that contains the chemical. It can also be absorbed through the skin after direct contact with certain substances, but this is rare. Most often, exposure to benzene occurs in the workplace. Leukemia linked to benzene is often considered an occupational disease.
Anyone who works in the following occupations should be aware of the risks of benzene exposure:
- Oil Refineries
- Chemical Plants
- Rubber Manufacturing
- Shoe Manufacturing
- Gasoline-Related Occupations
- Pesticide Manufacturing
- Steel Workers
Benzene is regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Employers must abide by exposure limits, which are:
- One part per million (PPM)
- Five PPM over a 15 minute period
- Drinking water or bottled water – Five parts per billion (PPB)
- Gasoline – 0.62 percent average by volume
People who work in an environment where benzene exposure is a risk should be aware of exposure limits and risk factors. Furthermore, workers should also be aware that their employer is required to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) if benzene levels exceed exposure limits.
Further, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates benzene levels in consumer products. Products containing 5 percent or more are hazardous and require special labels.
Have You Been Exposed to Benzene and are Concerned about Leukemia?
It is common knowledge that benzene is a hazardous chemical. Over the past decade or so, it became more well known as a carcinogen. Estimates suggest that more than five million Americans are at risk of exposure to toxic levels of benzene.
If you work, or have worked, in an environment that contains benzene, contact AkinMears, L.L.P. If exposure to benzene has led to a diagnosis of leukemia, then you may be eligible to take legal action. Our occupational hazard lawyer can help you understand and protect your legal rights.
To find out more, contact AkinMears, L.L.P. by calling 888-357-8191, or complete our online contact form.