Benzene: Causing Cancer for Over a Century

Whether it is from television or word of mouth, most people these days have become aware that asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma and lung cancer. However, far less of the general public knows of the similarly strong causal link between benzene and leukemia and blood cancers. Yet juries around the country, who hear the benzene story for the first time, are now frequently holding benzene suppliers and sellers of benzene-containing products responsible for the harm they can cause without proper warnings.


Benzene is an organic chemical that appears naturally in crude oil. It has a long history of use as an industrial solvent, paint stripper, degreaser and ingredient in laboratory research. Workers are exposed to benzene in many diverse industries such as printing, rubber manufacturing and marine bulk transport, and in jobs such as mechanics, painters, and gasoline and road workers. Even household products can expose individuals to unsafe amounts of benzene.


A casual observer might mistakenly believe that benzene is harmless because it is colorless and emits a pleasant aroma. In fact, many people used benzene as an aftershave in the late 1800’s because of its sweet smell. The true nature of benzene is insidious because behind this facade lurks a deadly and dangerous carcinogen.


Reports of benzene causing aplastic anemia, a deadly disorder of the bone marrow, were first published in 1897. In the 1920’s, the first of many reports of benzene-induced leukemia were published. By 1948, the American Petroleum Institute concluded that “it is generally considered that the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero.” Subsequently, numerous epidemiological studies have strengthened the link between benzene and leukemia, especially Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) and numerous blood disorders.


For years, the EPA has classified benzene as a “known human carcinogen” and today it is regulated by numerous governmental agencies. While society has come a long way from using benzene as an aftershave, many workers are still being exposed. In 1997, OSHA estimated that as many as 798,000 workers may be exposed to benzene in the United States. All of them may be at risk.


Benzene-induced leukemia and lymphoma may take years or even decades to fully develop and manifest. As a result, many of the workers who die from benzene-induced cancer are retired at the time of diagnosis, years removed from their last exposure. The five-year survival rate for some subtypes of AML is as low as 15%, further demonstrating the insidious nature of benzene.


The best way to protect ourselves and loved ones from carcinogenic benzene exposure is through education of which products contain benzene and reduce our exposure. Many times benzene will not be listed as an ingredient in a product but may well be present within another ingredient such as toluene, naptha, hexane, heptane and many other solvents. Please contact us for a free consultation of benzene exposure and potential benzene-induced health conditions.