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Benzene at Fracking Sites: What’s the Big Deal?

A recent study found that oil and natural-gas workers on fracking sites are routinely exposed to potentially unsafe levels of benzene. The study was performed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as part of a larger study to assess chemical exposure risks to workers at fracking sites. Nearly all participants were exposed to levels of benzene that exceeded both NIOSH standards and the less stringent Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

There may be hundreds of chemicals used at a fracking site; why is NIOSH so concerned about benzene?

Although benzene is a liquid at room temperature, it rapidly evaporates into the air. However, benzene is heavier than air, so it tends to stay at low levels where workers can breathe it in. Once benzene gets inside the body is interferes with the normal functioning of the bone marrow. The bone marrow is responsible for producing both red and white blood cells. Benzene suppresses the production of these cells.

Benzene and Anemia

Red blood cells deliver oxygen to the rest of the body. When exposure to benzene prevents the body from producing red blood cells, the worker may suffer from anemia and may feel tired, weak and short of breath. Women who are exposed to benzene may have irregular periods. Benzene exposure is also associated with fertility problems and birth defects, including bone marrow damage in newborns.

 

Benzene and Cancer

White blood cells help the body fight infection. This increases of infection and decreases the body’s ability to fight cancer. Benzene exposure is associated with very specific cancers including acute myelogenous leukemia, chronic myelogenous leukemia, and acute lymphocytic leukemia.

 

Other Effects of Benzene Exposure

Cancer and anemia develop after repeated workplace exposure to benzene; however, a worker can also experience immediate health effects after a single exposure to high levels of benzene. These effects include:

  • Skin irritation
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Death

Ostroff Law is currently investigating benzene-related health effects in Marcellus Shale oil and gas workers. If you suspect that you’ve suffered health effects from workplace exposure to benzene, please contact our fracking injury attorneys at (855) 880-6667. We’d like to hear your story. There is no charge for the call and no obligation.