Benzene Injury Law

Benzene Injury Law Blog

Benzene Refinery

On May 17, 2023, BP agreed to pay a $40 million penalty and invest another $200 million in environmental controls to settle charges for the alleged excessive release of toxic chemicals from BP’s oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana. [1]. The charges stem from EPA citations issued in July 2020 and December 2021 for pollution violations. The citations indicated that from 2018 through at least 2021, BP underreported the amount of benzene and other toxic chemicals that were being emitted from the refinery. Larry Starfield, acting assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, stated that “[t]his settlement will result in the reduction of hundreds of tons of harmful air pollution a year, which means cleaner, healthier air for local communities…” [2].

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    What is Benzene? 

    Benzene is an extremely toxic aromatic hydrocarbon that occurs naturally in petroleum. A few minutes of high-level exposure usually results in death. Benzene is also a Group 1 carcinogen. [3]. Group 1 carcinogens are toxins that are known to cause cancer. [4]. Examples of other Group 1 carcinogens include asbestos, tobacco smoke, and plutonium. Even a low-level exposure to benzene can cause damage to your DNA resulting in the development of leukemias such as acute myeloid leukemia.

    How Much Benzene Was the Whiting Refinery Emitting?

    EPA Regulations require that BP emit no more than 6 metric tons (~6.6 US tons) of benzene per year. Between 2016 and 2018, BP reported that it had emitted no more than 1.22 metric tons of benzene per year. However, the EPA found that the refinery (which is sandwiched between the city of Whiting and the city of East Chicago) had, in fact, been emitting more than 10 metric tons per year since at least 2001. [5].

    As harmful as the Whiting Refinery’s emissions may have been to the surrounding communities, they were probably even more damaging to the refinery workers whom BP employed at the facility. In October of 2019, EPA inspectors discovered that there were at least 22 leaks in BP’s benzene control system at the facility. [6] Benzene concentrations were measured to be as high as 35,000 parts per million (ppm) in the areas adjacent to these leaks. To put that in perspective, since at least 1928, scientists have estimated that 5-10 minutes of exposure to 20,000 ppm benzene in the air is usually fatal. [7]. OSHA’s current permissible exposure level (PEL) to airborne benzene is no more than 1 ppm over an 8-hour time-weighted average. [8].

    Were these Emissions Preventable? 

    Dangerous exposures to benzene can be avoided. Measures which could have dramatically reduced the emissions that were produced at Whiting Refinery in recent years have been technically feasible for decades, and the hazardous nature of even minute exposures to benzene has long been apparent. 

    However, implementing precautions to reduce the level of exposure amongst workers and in surrounding communities is expensive. Consequently, the petroleum industry has, historically, only spent the bare minimum that is necessary to avoid massive litigation while brazenly resisting any attempts to regulate emissions and permissible worker exposures. 

    The American Petroleum Institute (“API”) (the trade association representing all aspects of America’s oil and natural gas industry), for instance, concluded in 1948 that the only safe level of exposure to benzene is zero. [9]. And yet, 30 years later, after OSHA was congressionally mandated to limit worker exposures to “the lowest technologically feasible level that will not impair the viability of the industries regulated,” the API spent vast sums of money in legal fees battling benzene regulations all the way to the Supreme Court. [10].

    Are Dangerous Emissions Likely to Occur in the Future? 

    In the past, fines against BP for its activities in Indiana have rarely strayed above a few thousand dollars. Some commentators are optimistic that the scale of these fines may help send a message to the petroleum industry. However, it’s not clear that this will necessarily be the case. While a $40 million fine is significant, in 2022, BP reported $28 billion in profits. [11]. 

    What Should I Do If I Have Been Exposed to Benzene? 

    If you have been exposed to benzene you should tell your doctor. Being aware of exposures to a toxic chemical can help your healthcare provider diagnose and treat any illness much sooner in its development. 

    If you or a loved one endured chronic exposures to benzene and received a diagnosis for leukemia, it may be time to speak with a lawyer. Your time to file a lawsuit is limited.

    The attorneys at Hughes Law Offices may be able to help. These are complicated cases that require attorneys with experience dealing in these matters. While you and your loved ones focus on recovery, let us do the work needed to prove your case. Call 1-800-BENZENE today and speak directly with an attorney. All consultations are 100% free of charge. 



    [2] Justice Department and EPA Announce Settlement to Reduce Hazardous Air Emissions at BP Products’ Whiting Refinery in Indiana.

    [3] List of Classifications – IARC Monographs on the Identification of Carcinogenic Hazards to Humans 

    [4] Agents Classified by the IARC Monographs, Volumes 1–133 

    [5] U.S. et al. v. BP Products North America Inc. – Exhibit 1 | ENRD | Department of Justice 

    [6] Id

    [7] CDC Toxicological Profile For Benzene (“… it has been estimated that 5–10 minutes of exposure to 20,000 ppm benzene in air is usually fatal (Flury 1928). Lethality in humans has been attributed to asphyxiation, respiratory arrest, central nervous system depression, or suspected cardiac collapse”).

    [8] 29 C.F.R. § 1910.1028(c)(1)

    [9] API Toxicological Review Benzene September 1948 (“Insomuch as the body develops no tolerance to benzene, and as there is a wide variation in individual susceptibility, it is generally considered that the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero”).

    [10] See Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO v. API, 448 U.S. 607, 611 (1980).

    [11] BP’s fourth quarter and full year 2022 results | News and insights | Home.

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