Benzene is a common and sometimes naturally occurring chemical that can cause deadly cancers. You may be compensated for your injuries if you were exposed to benzene and developed a cancer linked to it.

What is Benzene?

Benzene is a colorless or light-yellow liquid at room temperature. It smells sweet and is highly flammable, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Benzene evaporates quickly into the air and will dissolve very little with water. It will instead float on top.

Benzene is formed naturally and can be created through an artificial process. It’s emitted from forest fires and volcanoes. It’s also a naturally occurring part of gasoline, crude oil, and cigarette smoke. 

Benzene ranks in the top 20 chemicals for US production volume. It’s used to make products such as resins, nylon, plastics, synthetic fibers, rubber, lubricants, dyes, pesticides, drugs, and detergents.

How Can I Be Exposed to Benzene?

You can be exposed at work or during your personal life:

  • The air may be contaminated due to gasoline, tobacco smoke, and industrial and motor vehicle emissions.  
  • Indoor air usually has higher benzene levels than what you breathe outside. It can come from paint, furniture wax, glue, and detergents
  • Outside air levels may be especially high near gas stations and where hazardous chemicals are stored
  • Benzene can get into drinking water from leaking underground benzene and gasoline storage tanks. If above-ground storage tanks or barrels of benzene-containing chemicals leak, it can run along the ground and get into streams and rivers used as water supplies
  • Those working with benzene or benzene-containing chemicals may have severe exposure to it
  • Those who smoke tobacco, or breathe in second-hand smoke, generally have the highest levels of benzene in their bodies

What Harm Can Benzene Do?

Long-term exposure can cause serious health problems:

  • The federal Department of Health and Human Services determined benzene causes cancer. Long-term, high-level exposure inhalation can cause leukemia, a cancer affecting blood-forming tissues, including in bone marrow and the lymphatic system
  • Benzene can harm the bone marrow, reducing the creation of red blood cells and causing anemia. It may also lead to excessive bleeding, impair your immune system, and increase the risk of infections
  • Some women who inhale benzene at high levels over a long period can develop irregular menstrual periods, and their ovaries may shrink. It’s unknown if benzene impacts a developing fetus in a pregnant woman or male fertility 
  • However, experiments with pregnant animals inhaling benzene have resulted in offspring with low birth weights, late bone formation, and damaged bone marrow 

Benzene’s threat to health has been known since the 1920s, so many of the medical problems it causes are well-documented.

What is Leukemia? What Can I Do About It?

Each person’s leukemia, how it impacts them, and how it responds to treatment are unique to that individual.

While anemia may develop fairly quickly after benzene exposure, it may take years before you develop leukemia. It’s believed that as your body breaks down benzene, it results in the release of toxic substances that change your cells’ DNA, resulting in malignant cell mutations.

Leukemia doesn’t result in solid tumors. It causes immature white blood cells (part of your immune system) to rapidly divide, flooding your bone marrow with useless cells. They crowd out normal ones and gradually degrade your health until you suffer severe consequences. There are many types and sub-types of the disease, which may progress quickly or slowly.

A side effect of leukemia is the production of fewer red blood cells (which carry oxygen throughout the body), white blood cells (which fight infections), and platelets (which help stop bleeding). As a result: 

  • Your organs and tissues won’t function properly because they’re oxygen starved
  • You’ll have more infections which your body will have an increasingly difficult time fighting 
  • You’ll bruise easier, and bleeding will become more common and difficult to stop

Leukemia can be treated in many ways. Usually, one approach is taken, and if it’s ineffective or loses effectiveness over time, another type of treatment is tried. Depending on many factors, treatment may be planned so you would eventually have an allogeneic stem cell transplant (see below). 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, treatments include:

  • Chemotherapy: The use of drugs and or chemicals to kill leukemia cells or prevent them from reproducing
  • Immunotherapy: This involves drugs that may strengthen your immune system so it can kill leukemia cells
  • Targeted therapy: Drugs impact a part of the leukemia cells, killing them or preventing them from dividing
  • Radiation: Strong energy beams or x-rays are directed to where the leukemia cells are, injuring them so they can’t divide or killing them
  • Stem cell transplant: High-dose chemotherapy and possibly radiation are used to kill your bone marrow cells, whether they’re normal or malignant. Before this, healthy bone marrow cells may be removed from your body and infused after this treatment. Another approach is not to use any of your cells but to infuse healthy cells from a donor (allogeneic transplant). A donor transplant may cure you of leukemia, but there may be high risks it will not work, or side effects of the procedure or infections may be fatal
  • Chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CART) therapy: This is the latest development in treatment. A type of white cell (T-cells) is removed from your body, re-engineered to fight your leukemia, and infused back into your body

Benzene exposure is associated with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS, a type of cancer where blood-forming bone marrow cells become abnormal, causing low numbers of one or more blood cell types). Often MDS later develops into AML.

In addition to leukemia, benzene may cause other cancers including, Non-Hodgkin’s B-cell or follicular lymphoma, multiple myeloma (another bone marrow-related cancer), and cancers of the kidney, bladder, liver, and sinuses.

What Should I Do If I Believe Benzene Impacted My Health?

If you have questions about your rights to compensation because benzene exposure may have caused your cancer or a fatal malignancy in a close family member, the skilled product liability attorneys at Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, LLP are here for you. Call us today at 713-893-0971 to schedule a free consultation with a lawyer from our defective product law firm.