What is Benzene?

  • Benzene is a chemical that:
    • Is a colorless or light yellow liquid at room temperature
    • Has a sweet odor
    • Is highly flammable
    • Evaporates into the air very quickly. Its vapor is heavier than air and may sink into low-lying areas.
    • Dissolves only slightly in water and will float on top of water.
  • Benzene is
    • Formed from both natural processes and human activities.
      • Natural sources of benzene include:
        • Volcanoes
        • Forest fires
      • Benzene is also a natural part of:
        • Crude oil
        • Gasoline
        • Cigarette smoke
    • Widely used in the United States. It ranks in the top 20 chemicals for production volume.
    • Used to make other chemicals that are used to make:
      • Plastic
      • Resins
      • Nylon and synthetic fibers
    • Also used to make:
      • Some types of lubricants
      • Rubbers
      • Dyes
      • Detergents
      • Drugs
      • Pesticides
    • In the past, it was commonly used as a solvent and a gasoline additive, but these uses have been greatly reduced in recent decades.

How are you exposed to benzene?

  • Outdoor air contains low levels of benzene from:
    • Tobacco smoke
    • Gas stations
    • Motor vehicle exhaust
    • Industrial emissions
  • Indoor air generally contains higher levels of benzene than outdoor air. The benzene in indoor air comes from products that contain benzene such as:
    • Glues
    • Paints
    • Furniture wax
    • Detergents
  • The air around hazardous waste sites or gas stations can contain higher levels of benzene than in other areas.
  • Benzene leaks from underground storage tanks or from hazardous waste sites containing benzene can contaminate well water.
  • People working in industries that make or use benzene may be exposed to the highest levels:
    • Rubber industry
    • Oil refineries
    • Chemical plants
    • Shoe manufacturers
    • Gasoline-related industries
    • Steel workers
    • Printers
    • Lab technicians
    • Gas station employees
    • Firefighters
  • Cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke are major sources of exposure to benzene. Cigarette smoke accounts for about half of the exposure to benzene in the United States. Benzene levels in rooms containing tobacco smoke can be many times higher than normal.
  • And now, benzene is being found in everyday items that we put on our skin, such as:

How does benzene cause injury?

  • Benzene causes injury by prohibiting cells from working properly.
    • It can prohibit bone marrow from producing enough red blood cells, which can lead to anemia.
    • It can damage the immune system by changing blood levels of antibodies and causing the loss of white blood cells.
  • Immediate signs and symptoms of exposure to benzene:
    • People who breathe in high levels of benzene may develop the following signs and symptoms within minutes to several hours:
      • Drowsiness
      • Dizziness
      • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
      • Headaches
      • Tremors
      • Confusion
      • Unconsciousness
      • Death (at very high levels)
    • Eating foods or drinking beverages containing high levels of benzene can cause the following symptoms within minutes or several hours:
      • Vomiting
      • Irritation of the stomach
      • Dizziness
      • Sleepiness
      • Convulsions
      • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
      • Death (at very high levels)
    • If a person vomits because of swallowing foods or beverages containing benzene, the vomit could be sucked into the lungs and cause breathing problems and coughing.
    • Direct exposure of the eyes, skin or lungs to benzene can cause tissue injury and irritation. Skin exposure can result in redness and blisters.

What are the long-term health effects of exposure to benzene?

  • The major effect of benzene from long-term exposure is on the blood.
    • Benzene causes harmful effects on the bone marrow and can cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia.
    • Benzene can also cause excessive bleeding and can affect the immune system, increasing the chance for infection.
  • Some women who breathed high levels of benzene for many months had irregular menstrual periods and a decrease in size of their ovaries. It is not known whether benzene exposure affects the developing fetus in pregnant women or fertility in men.
  • Animal studies have shown low birth weights, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage when pregnant animals breathed benzene.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that benzene causes cancer in humans. Long-term exposure to high levels of benzene in the air can cause leukemia, cancer of the blood-forming organs.
    • Researchers use 2 main types of studies to try to determine if a substance causes cancer:
      • Studies in people: one type of study looks at cancer rates in different groups of people. Such a study might compare the cancer rate in a group exposed to a substance to the cancer rate in a group not exposed to it, or compare it to the cancer rate in the general population.
        • Rates of leukemia, particularly acute myeloid leukemia (AML), have been found to be higher in studies of workers exposed to high levels of benzene, such as those in the chemical shoemaking and oil refining industries
        • Some studies have also suggested links to childhood leukemia as well as acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and other blood-related cancers (such as multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma) in adults.
      • Lab studies: in studies done in the lab, animals are exposed to a substance to see if it causes tumors or other health problems. Researchers might also expose normal skin cells in a lab dish to the substance to see if it causes the types of changes that are seen in cancer cells.
        • When inhaled or swallowed, benzene has been found to cause different types of tumors in lab animals such as rats and mice. These results support the finding of an excess risk of leukemia in humans.
        • Benzene has been shown to cause chromosome changes in bone marrow cells in the lab. Such changes are commonly found in human leukemia cells.

What do expert agencies say?

  • Several national and international agencies study substances in the environment to determine if they can cause cancer. (A substance that causes cancer or helps cancer grow is called a carcinogen.) The American Cancer Society looks to these organizations to evaluate the risks based on evidence from laboratory, animal, and human research studies. Based on animal and human evidence, several expert agencies have evaluated the cancer-causing potential of benzene:
    • The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). One of its goals is to identify causes of cancer. IARC classifies benzene as “carcinogenic to humans,” based on sufficient evidence that benzene causes acute myeloid leukemia. IARC also notes that benzene exposure has been linked with acute lymphocytic leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
    • The National Toxicology Program (NTP) is formed from parts of several different US government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The NTP has classified benzene as “known to be a human carcinogen.”
    • The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), and electronic database that contains information on human health effects from exposure to various substance in the environment. The EPA classifies benzene as a known human carcinogen.

Are benzene levels regulated?

  • Several government agencies regulate benzene levels and exposures:
    • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency responsible for health and safety regulations in most workplaces.
      • OSHA limits exposure to benzene in the air in most places to 1 ppm (part per million) during an average workday and a maximum of 5 ppm over any 15-minute period. When working at potentially higher exposure levels, OSHA requires employers to provide personal protective equipment such as respirators.
    • The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH”) recommends protective equipment be worn by workers expecting to be exposed to benzene at concentrations of 0.1 ppm and defines “inhalation, skin absorption, ingestion, skin and/or eye contact” as exposure routes.
    • The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits concentrations of benzene in drinking water to 5 ppb (parts per billion) [equivalent of 0.005 ppm]. Some states may have lower limits.
    • The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets a limit of 5 ppb in bottled water.
    • The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) considers any product containing 5% or more by weight of benzene to be hazardous, requiring special labeling.

Can I limit my exposure to benzene?

What should I do if I am exposed to benzene?

  • If the benzene was released into the air, get fresh air by leaving the area where the benzene was released. Moving to an area with fresh air is a good way to reduce the possibility of death from exposure to benzene in the air.
  • If you think you have been exposed to benzene, you should remove your clothing, rapidly wash your entire body with soap and water and get medical care as quickly as possible.
  • If you think your water supply may have benzene in it, drink bottled water until you are sure your water supply is safe.
  • If someone has swallowed benzene, do not try to make them vomit or give them fluids to drink. Also, if you are sure the person has swallowed benzene, do not attempt CPR. Performing CPR on someone who has swallowed benzene can cause them to vomit. The vomit could be sucked into their lungs and damage their lungs.
  • Seek medical attention right away. Dial 911 and explain what has happened.
  • If you think you may have been exposed to benzene over a long period of time, speak to a doctor. Benzene can be measured in the blood or breath, and breakdown products of benzene can be measured in the urine. These tests can only detect recent exposures to benzene. They cannot predict possible health effects.

If you have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, or multiple myeloma and have regularly used products containing benzene, we urge you to call us toll free at 877-704-7674.  We will evaluate your potential sunscreen claim at no charge. 

What Does It Cost To Find Out If I Have A Case?

Nothing. Call us toll free at (877) 704-7674 for a free case evaluation. You’ll speak to a lawyer with more than 30 years of experience, not a case screener. We will take the time to discuss your case and your legal options. If your case proceeds to the investigation and litigation phase, we cover those costs. We are paid for our time and repaid for case expenses only if you make a financial recovery in the form of a settlement or verdict.