Benzene Exposure to Oil Field Workers
Oil field work is one of the most hazardous industries in the U.S. Fatal injuries involving fires and explosions, transportation wrecks, and accidents with equipment and materials are not uncommon. Now, according to a study reported by National Geographic, oil field workers in five states, including Wyoming, are being exposed to dangerously high levels of benzene and other chemicals in the air.
What Is Benzene?
Benzene is a chemical that comes from crude oil, natural gas, and coal. It is sweet-smelling, flammable, and colorless. It is used in feedstock, as a solvent in chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and as a raw material to make industrial chemicals. Benzene is present in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) flowback water.
How Are Oil Field Workers Exposed to Benzene?
According to the American Cancer Society, oil field workers can be exposed to benzene in two different ways:
- Air exposure: Breathing air containing benzene is the most common way for oil workers and people in the community to be exposed.
- Contact exposure: Benzene can also be absorbed through the skin, when workers have contact with a source. This is less common than air exposure, because liquid benzene evaporates quickly.
How Is It Known that Benzene Exposure Can Cause Cancer?
The link between cancer and benzene is mainly focused on leukemia and other blood cell cancers through:
- Laboratory studies: Animals in labs have been exposed to large doses of benzene to find out if it causes cancers. Researchers also expose human cells in a lab dish to benzene and watch to see if it causes the same types of changes seen in cancer cells. When it is inhaled or swallowed, benzene has been found to cause tumors in rats and mice.
- Human studies: In this type of study, researchers evaluate cancer rates in different groups of people. In the case of benzene, they compare cancer rates in groups of people who are exposed to this chemical to cancer rates in the general population. Rates of leukemia have been found to be higher in workers exposed to high levels of benzene, including oil field workers.
What Do National and International Agencies Say?
Several national and international agencies have determined that benzene exposure can cause cancer. As stated by the American Cancer Society, based on evidence from laboratory and human studies, benzene has been classified as a known human carcinogen (substance capable of causing cancer in living tissues) by the:
- S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);
- National Toxicology Program (NTP); and
- International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
What Other Health Problems Can Benzene Exposure Cause?
Exposure to benzene can have both short and long-term effects on the health of oil field workers and others, and in some cases, has proven to be fatal.
Short-Term Effects of Benzene Exposure
- Consuming liquids or foods contaminated with high levels of benzene can cause dizziness, sleepiness, stomach irritation, vomiting, rapid heart rate, and convulsions.
- Exposure to liquid benzene or vapor can irritate the eyes, throat, and skin. It can cause redness and blisters on the skin.
- Breathing high levels of benzene can affect the nervous system and lead to dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, tremors, confusion, and unconsciousness.
Long-Term Effects of Benzene Exposure
Exposure to benzene over a longer period of time can damage the bone marrow, where new blood cells are produced by the body. It can cause:
- Anemia (low red blood cell count), which can make a person feel weak and tired;
- Low blood platelet count, which makes a person more prone to bruising and bleeding; and
- Low white blood cell count, which weakens the body’s ability to fight off infections and may be life-threatening.
Evidence suggests that long-term benzene exposure may cause damage to the reproductive organs. Some women who have breathed high levels of benzene for months at a time have had ovary shrinkage and irregular menstrual cycles.
Compensation for Injuries Caused by Benzene Exposure
Oil field drilling and fracking can expose workers to benzene and other harmful chemicals on a daily basis. Companies who fail to provide proper personal protective equipment, safety training, and hands-on supervision are putting their workers at risk.
Workers’ Comp Benefits
If you have suffered injury or illness as an oil field worker because of benzene exposure, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ comp is a no-fault system that protects employers from lawsuits and provides benefits for injured workers. It may cover your medical expenses related to the illness or injury and reimburse you for a portion your lost wages.
Unfortunately, workers’ compensation may not cover all the medical treatments you believe you need, or provide you with enough income to maintain the standard of living you had before your illness or injury.
If a third party (other than your employer) is liable for your benzene exposure and injuries, you may be entitled to file a third-party lawsuit for damages. In such a case, it is in your best interests to speak with a Campbell County personal injury attorney as soon as you can. The first thing we will do at Steven Titus & Associates, P.C., is carefully investigate the cause of your injuries to determine liability. Once we determine who is at fault for your benzene exposure and the harm it has caused, we can advise you of your options under the law.
We offer a free case strategy session to oil field workers who have been injured by exposure to benzene. Call us at (307) 257-7800. We work on a contingency fee basis for this type of case, which means you don’t pay us any fees until we recover compensation for you.
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