Many of the harmless products we use every day are made of components that are actually quite dangerous. While it's safe for us to use the final product, it can be dangerous for workers who handle the dangerous substances in the making of the product.
One example of this is the use of benzene for the production of plastics, detergents, and glues. The plastic container we use to store leftovers doesn't present a hazard to us, but the factory worker who was exposed to benzene during the production of the container may be at risk for developing serious health problems.
If you've been exposed to benzene in the workplace, your current health problems may be the result, and you could be eligible for workers’ comp benefits. Learn about the cancers and chronic conditions that can be caused by workplace exposure to benzene.
What Is Benzene?
Benzene is a colorless flammable liquid that can be found in the emissions from gas stations, automobile exhaust, and burning coal and oil. It's also used as a starting material to make other chemicals, and is one of the 20 most common chemicals in manufacturing in the U.S. It's often a component of the production process for lubricants, plastics, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.
While federal regulations have limited acceptable levels of benzene exposure in the workplace over the last 30 years, workers are still exposed, and may suffer ill effects. Employees in the following industries are often exposed to benzene:
- Rubber production
- Oil refineries
- Chemical plants
- Shoe manufacturing
- Gasoline-related work, including gas stations
- Steel mills
Employees should be protected from exposure with appropriate safety gear such as masks and gloves, and well-monitored air quality. When a worker exposed to benzene over long periods of time begins to experience ill health effects, he may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, but will probably need the assistance of a workers’ comp attorney in order to prove a connection between the exposure and the illness.
Illnesses Caused by Benzene Exposure
It's always difficult to make a direct connection between exposure to a substance and resulting illness. Often, symptoms of an illness don't arise until years after the exposure occurred. However, if you're exposed to high levels of benzene in the air or by consumption of contaminated food or water, you'll likely suffer the following symptoms immediately:
- Stomach irritation
- Rapid heart rate
- In some cases, death
If you notice these symptoms and suspect benzene exposure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting away from the source of benzene, removing any clothing that may have benzene on it, washing exposed areas with soap and water, and getting medical care as soon as possible.
According to the American Cancer Society, long-term exposure to low levels of benzene can lead to blood diseases and disorders, including the following:
- Acute myeloid leukemia
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Low white blood cell count
- Low blood platelet count
If you work in an industry where exposure to benzene is likely and you've been diagnosed with a blood cancer or illness, there may be a connection. If this is the case, discuss the possible connection with your doctor and contact an attorney as soon as possible.
What Can a Workers’ Comp Attorney Do for You?
When trying to prove workplace exposure to toxins, you'll likely need the guidance of an experienced workers’ comp attorney. An attorney will work with your doctor—and possibly recommend a medical specialist—to verify the illness and draw a connection between the illness and the toxin. He may also work with a toxic chemical expert to collect samples at your place of work.
The sooner you begin working with an attorney, the better the chances are of proving the connection and collecting the benefits you need to begin your road to recovery.