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Benzene Exposures and Myelodysplastic Syndrome

Published on November 18th, 2021 by Andrew Hughes

Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is a rare cancer that can be caused by long term exposures to benzene.  MDS affects 12,000 to 20,000 Americans annually. MDS is diagnosed when a person’s bone marrow is not producing enough healthy blood cells. This bone marrow disease is also categorized as a form of blood cancer. The initial symptoms of MDS often include unusual bruising, shortness of breath, red spots on the skin, and fatigue.

Primary care physicians and oncologists spend their time treating the cancer. They are rightly focused on trying to save their patient, as opposed to what caused the patient’s MDS.  Many of our clients have not discussed the causes of their leukemia with their medical treaters. And when there was a discussion, it may have been very brief.  The doctor may not learn that her patient spent years working with benzene-containing products such as solvents, thinners, fuels and inks.

Only a few specialists – typically at well-known research institutions – know to ask about the patient’s work history.  These doctors will ask the patient whether he or she worked around petroleum-based products. They do this because the science and epidemiology linking benzene exposures and MDS is becoming stronger and stronger. People who worked with or around gasoline, solvents, degreasers, paints, thinners, and other products derived from petroleum are at a higher risk of contracting MDS.

Jobs Associated with Benzene and Myelodysplastic Syndrome

Mechanics use of brake and carb cleaners raise their risk of developing MDS.  The historical use of Safety-Kleen parts washer by mechanics and machinists can also lead to MDS. Blanket washes, press washes, and the inks used by printers and pressmen also contained benzene. And gas station attendants and tanker truck drivers were breathing in benzene-rich vapors throughout their working day.

Any individual who worked with chemicals in the 1970s may have been exposed to benzene. Roustabouts and roughnecks who work in oil fields or off-shore can still be exposed to benzene through raw crude. Additionally, the products used to clean pumps and valves likely contained high levels of benzene in the 1970s and 1980s. Some companies even had barrels of pure benzene near worksites. Workers would clean their tools with no thought of needing to protect themselves from benzene vapors. And because there is no safe level of benzene exposure, protection should still be used with some of today’s cleaners and solvents.

Other Factors

Prior cancer treatments involving radiation or chemotherapy are known to increase the risk of developing Myelodysplastic Syndrome. There is benzene in cigarettes. It is unclear whether smoking is a cause of MDS. However it is known that smokers with MDS are more likely to develop acute myeloid leukemia (AML). About 30% of people with MDS will later be diagnosed with AML.

When to Act

Too many people sickened with myelodysplastic syndrome do not make the connection between their cancer and benzene until after their right to sue has passed. This timeframe is known as the statute of limitations and varies by state. You may have six years to make a claim if your injuries occured in Maine, but only one year if you lived and worked in Louisiana. Most states require you to take action within two years of your diagnosis.*  This may seem unfair because chemotherapy treatments and stem cell transplants can take up most of this time. But this is the reality of benzene litigation. The petroleum industry admitted benzene was carcinogenic in 1948, but did not warn employees and end users of their products.

Diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome? Call 1-800-BENZENE And Speak To An Experienced Benzene Attorney

Benzene lawsuits are complex endeavors. We generally sue the manufacturers of the benzene-containing products and owners of the premises where the exposures occurred.  Defendants like ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, Ashland Chemical, and DuPont will deny responsibility for injuries arising from their products. We have years of experience working up toxic tort cases. We know which products you used that may have been harmful. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with MDS and worked around chemicals, call 1-800-BENZENE today and speak with an MDS lawyer.

*The statute of limitations information listed above is current but subject to change. Call us to learn the statute applicable to your claim.

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