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FUELS, BENZENE & LEUKEMIA RISK

Published on June 9th, 2022 by Andrew Hughes

As a result of gasoline and other fuel exposures, many tradespeople are at increased risk for leukemia. The crafts at elevated risk for leukemia include:

How are Fuels Connected to Leukemia?

Chronic exposure to fuel is dangerous because many common fuels contain benzene. Benzene is a carcinogenic aromatic hydrocarbon. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies benzene as a group one carcinogen. Examples of other group one carcinogens include asbestos, plutonium, and tobacco.

Benzene exposure can lead to numerous diseases including:

How Much Benzene is Present in Fuel?

Benzene occurs naturally in all petroleum products; however, the amount of benzene in different fuels can vary widely. The benzene concentration in any given fuel will depend on a variety of factors, including the type of fuel (e.g. petroleum, natural gas, or coal), the properties of the crude oil from which it was derived, and how it was produced.

Gasoline, Benzene, and Leukemia

In terms of benzene and fuels, unleaded gasoline is one of the most common benzene exposure routes for working Americans.  Even today, the benzene content in unleaded gasoline is comparatively high. Why? Because benzene is added to the gasoline to increase its octane rating.

Since 2012 the EPA has required that gasoline contain no more than 1.3% benzene. This limit, while still hazardous, pales in comparison to historical gasoline benzene levels. For example, prior to 1950, some consumer-grade gasoline was more than a third pure benzene. Much more recently, benzene has made up more than 5% of gasoline.

Some fuels – like kerosene, propane, and butane – contain trace levels of benzene. However, there is no safe level of benzene exposure. Chronic exposures to trace quantities of benzene may amount to dangerous levels over time.

How Can Benzene Exposures Occur?

Dangerous levels of benzene can enter your body through inhalation, ingestion, or absorption through the skin.

Inhalation is often the primary route of exposure. Benzene exposures occur via inhalation of raw fuel vapors as well as combusted exhaust. The epidemiology that we rely upon to prove these cases establishes that long-term inhalation exposures to low concentrations of benzene are often more damaging than short-term exposures at much higher concentrations.

Dermal benzene exposures are also common. Many of our clients describe working with and around petroleum-based products like gasoline and diesel fuel. Since benzene can be absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream, workers who regularly get benzene-containing fuels on their skin are at increased risk for leukemia. Any cuts or scrapes make it even easier for the benzene to find its way into the bloodstream.

While less common than inhalation and dermal exposures, ingestion of fuel can be more damaging. Scientific study has indicated that benzene may be more readily absorbed through the stomach than it is through the lungs or skin. Working with fuels and then failing to wash your hands before eating is one such way that harmful ingestion of benzene may occur.

Who is at the Greatest Risk of a Dangerous Exposure?

Anyone who works with or around large quantities of gasoline and other fuels is at risk of dangerous exposures to benzene.

For example, those involved in the production of fuel, such as refinery workers, can encounter vast amounts of fuel throughout their careers. The U.S. consumes hundreds of billions of gallons of fuel each year and every drop of it comes from a refinery. In addition to being exposed to benzene in the fuel itself, many refinery workers have even been exposed to benzene in its pure form.

Those involved in the transportation and sale of fuel face similar risks. When fuel is properly stored, the risk of exposure is low. However, when fuel is being loaded or unloaded, large amounts of fuel/benzene vapor can be released into the air.

Maritime workers, working on the docks or on the water, often assist with the loading or unloading of millions of gallons of fuel in a single day. These exposures are notoriously bad when it comes to benzene.

Similarly, railroad workers involved in the fueling of locomotives and other equipment experience benzene exposures.  Railroad workers are also regularly exposed to benzene when working inside the railroad’s shops, and when servicing refineries and chemical plants that emit benzene.

A tanker truck can carry more than ten thousand gallons of fuel, and tanker truck drivers often make several deliveries a day. While gasoline loading and unloading operations have improved in terms of driver exposures, even today, tanker truck drivers are at elevated risk for leukemia due to their workplace benzene exposures.

Historically, gas station attendants regularly spent their entire workday pumping gas. Today’s vapor recovery systems on the pumps were not in wide use prior to the 1990’s. As a result, gas station attendants pumping thousands of gallons a fuel per day experienced significant benzene exposures.

Mechanics and other tradesmen are also commonly exposed to benzene in fuel. For example, many mechanics can attest to frequently becoming drenched in gasoline in the course of their normal workday. In fact, it was long the common practice of mechanics to wash their hands in gasoline throughout the day.

Fuel Exposures – Verdicts & Settlements

$575,000 settlement (Pennsylvania, 2019)

The Decedent worked at the Defendant’s Pennsylvania refinery as a laborer, electrician, and maintenance supervisor from 1973 until 2001. The Decedent later developed atypical chronic lymphocytic leukemia which quickly progressed into acute myeloid leukemia. Following his death, the Decedent’s estate brought suit alleging that the Decedent was exposed to naptha, refined fuels containing various levels of benzene, and the pure form of benzene. The estate claimed that these exposures were the cause of the Decedent’s illness and death.

$15,340,00 verdict (Minnesota, 2016)

A 49-year-old locomotive engineer was working for BNSF Railway at the Northtown Yard in Fridley, Minnesota when tank cars containing casinghead gasoline vented poisonous fumes where he was working. The railroad covered up the fact that he had been exposed to casinghead gasoline which prevented the Plaintiff from receiving adequate medical care. As a result of the exposure, the Plaintiff suffered a severe degenerative neurological injury. By the time the case got to trial, he could barely walk. The jury awarded $15,340,000 in damages and also ordered BNSF to pay an additional $5,840,000 as a sanction for its misconduct.

$2,308,513 verdict (California, 2015)

The Plaintiff, a maritime worker, was exposed to benzene-containing crude oil and other carcinogens while working aboard ships owned by the Defendant and its predecessors from 1988 to 1996. The Plaintiff subsequently developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At the time of trial, the Plaintiff’s illness was in remission.

$17,498,000 verdict (Louisiana, 2012)

The Plaintiff spent four years working as a petroleum inspector on ships and barges that were owned by Chevron, Texaco, and Unocoal during the 1980s. While performing his normal duties, he was regularly exposed to benzene. Many years later, the Plaintiff, then age 48, was diagnosed with leukemia and colon cancer. The lawsuit advanced to trial against Chevron only. Chevron was sanctioned for failing to produce corporate representatives for deposition. As a result, the court ordered that the parties proceed to trial on damages only. The jury awarded $5,498,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $12,000,000 in punitive damages.

$7,500,000 verdict (Nevada, 2011)

The Plaintiff, a tanker truck driver, endured chronic exposures to benzene during a six-year period loading and delivering gasoline from the Defendant’s fuel terminal in Las Vegas. As a result of his exposure to benzene, the Plaintiff developed myelodysplastic syndrome and passed away shortly after his diagnosis at the age of 58. At trial, the Plaintiff’s estate presented evidence that showed his exposure to benzene had caused chromosomal damage to his DNA. Prior to trial, the estate agreed to confidential settlements with the other Defendants.

Confidential Settlement (Louisiana, 2010)

The Plaintiff worked as a gas station attendant for Defendant from 1965 through 1978. His work required him to pump gas and perform various mechanic tasks on automobiles while using the Defendant’s oil products. Years later, the Plaintiff was diagnosed with leukemia. The Plaintiff brought suit alleging that it was his exposure to the Defendant’s benzene-containing fuel and oil that caused his leukemia. The parties agreed to a confidential settlement out of court.

Confidential Settlement (Illinois, 2006)

The Plaintiff, a veteran, served as a jet mechanic for the U.S. Marine Corps from 1973 to 1989. During his time in the Corps, he worked at various bases around the country. He later developed chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The Plaintiff alleged that his exposure to benzene in JP-4 jet fuel manufactured by the defendant was the cause of his illness. Following the Defendant’s unsuccessful motion practice, the parties agreed to a confidential settlement.

$5,110,000 verdict (California, 2002)

The Plaintiff, age 51, worked as a merchant seaman on the Defendant’s vessels, hauling crude oil from Alaska to Southern California. He was exposed to benzene while assisting with the loading and unloading of crude oil and while cleaning the tanks, bilges, engines, and below deck spaces.  After seven years working for the Defendant, he was diagnosed with Stage III bladder cancer. The Plaintiff underwent chemotherapy, radiation, and multiple surgeries. The Defendant argued that the Plaintiff’s minor smoking history was the cause of his illness. The award included $1,270,000 in economic damages and $3,840,000 in non-economic damages. The jury attributed 15 percent fault to the Plaintiff; the net award was reduced accordingly

$1,500,000 settlement (Massachusetts, 2000)

The Decedent had worked as a pump man aboard various tankers in the 1970s and 1980s where he was exposed to benzene. In 1994, about 15 years since his last exposure to benzene, the Decedent was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Prior to and during that 15-year period, Decedent had been a heavy smoker. Plaintiff passed away from AML in 1995. The widow brought suit against the vessel claiming her late husband’s AML was caused by his exposure to benzene while working aboard the tanker.

Hughes Law Offices is providing these case histories to inform visitors about actual case fact patterns, settlements, verdicts, and rulings. Unless specifically noted, the cases summarized herein were not handled by attorneys at Hughes Law Offices.

Experienced Benzene Attorneys

These are complicated cases that require attorneys with experience dealing in these matters. If you or a loved one has endured long-term fuel exposures and have received a cancer diagnosis, call Benzene Lawyers today at 1-800-BENZENE to find out if you have a claim against the manufacturers of these benzene products.

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