Parties have reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount in a Philadelphia benzene exposure lawsuit. The two sides arrived at an agreement after the evidence phase of the trial but before jury submission. The plaintiff, Michael Butts, acquired acute myeological leukemia as a result of years spent working in environments where benzene was regularly in the air.
Benzene is a sweet smelling carcinogen that evaporates into the air quickly. Like many chemicals that have been found in standard household products for decades, FDA research has found that regular exposure to benzene increases the risk of certain cancers. It can also contribute to other blood and marrow diseases. Benzene can be produced through automobile emissions, burning coal and oil, and in the manufacture of chemicals, dyes, detergents, and plastics.
The World Health Organization has found that benzene is a “highly volatile” toxin and that “public health actions are needed to reduce [its] exposure.” Manufacturers have reformulated products to reduce the risks to customers, as well as those who work with their products for long periods of time. However, even routine encounters with benzene can negatively impact the production of red and white blood cells in the body, as well as the proliferation of B-cells and T-cells.
In addition to increased risk of cancer and leukemia, overexposure to benzene can cause narcosis, headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, tremors, irritation of the eyes and skin, and loss of consciousness. Alcohol can increase the carcinogen’s toxicity.
Mr. Butts was employed as a maintenance and repair mechanic at various sites between 1965 and 2014 where he would have encountered benzene. These include a wide variety of shops including a dairy farm, lawn mower shop, an automotive shop, excavation contracting business, and a plumbing and heating business. His exposure came through gasoline and oil, and his lawyers say the products he worked with lacked proper warnings and instructions. Defendants in the case included ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Sunoco, and others.
As with other unregulated chemicals, years of exposure to benzene could pose a significant risk. In particular, people who felt they were making the best choices in order to provide for themselves and their families are at risk. Acute myeological leukemia can get worse quickly if not treated. If your work environment frequently exposes you to benzene and other harmful chemicals, speak with your medical professional about the risks of such exposure.