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Higher Leukemia Risks for Louisiana Refinery Workers

Published on October 5th, 2021 by Andrew Hughes

Louisiana’s refinery and petrochemical plant workers are at a higher risk of developing leukemia as a result of their benzene exposures. A known carcinogen, benzene can cause acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). There are 17 refineries in Louisiana. These refineries have the capacity to refine more than 3.3 million barrels of oil per day. Many of these refineries are located in and around New Orleans. There are also more than 150 petroleum plants along the 85-mile stretch between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. We represent many Louisiana refinery workers diagnosed with leukemia as a result of their work around benzene-containing products at these refineries.

Unnecessary Benzene Exposures

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, it was common for benzene to be stored in 55-gallon drums at petrochemical sites. Employees and contractors would use the liquid as a cleaning solvent. Hammers and snips would be dipped into these drums without the worker giving it much thought. Perhaps the sweet-smelling aroma of benzene led workers to underestimate its toxicity. But the plant owners knew differently. The refinery and chemical plants that turned a blind eye to these benzene exposures contributed to sickening multiple generations of workers. Benzene has been identified as a cause of leukemia for a long time. In 1948, the American Petroleum Industry admitted that there was no safe level of benzene exposure.

Inadequate Warnings About Benzene

Refineries in the New Orleans-Metairie area employ thousands of Louisiana workers.  Thousands more are employed in the local petrochemical industry. America has grown and prospered due in no small part to the hard work put in by Louisiana’s refinery workers. But Shell Norco and Shell Convent refinery workers were not properly warned. Internal documents prepared by lawyers for Shell note that warnings on MSDS sheets “may not ‘bring home’ the danger of leukemia”. Shell was also aware that instructions about getting physical exams did not explain that these exams should be focused on detecting benzene exposure.

If The Benzene Levels Are Bad At The Fence Line, What Are They Like Inside The Refinery?

Safety standards have improved in the last 40 years. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) use is more common. But just walking around in a refinery exposes workers to elevated levels of benzene. A study from 2020 found that five refineries in Louisiana had benzene monitoring readings – at their fenceline – that exceeded EPA action levels. Catalytic crackers and other tanks and pipes are usually set well away from the fenceline. Therefore, refinery workers likely spend much of their days inhaling unacceptable levels of benzene.

With regard to the fenceline benzene testing, Delek’s Krotz Springs refinery had more than triple the allowable levels. Shell Norco, Chalmette Refining,  and Phillips 66’s Westlake and Belle Chasse also exceeded actionable benzene levels at the fence line. Workers at Shell Norco in August of 2012 could have been exposed to benzene when 1 ton of it was released when systems failed. Other refineries in the New Orleans area where workers were exposed to benzene include Valero Meraux, Marathon Garyville, ExxonMobil, and Motiva Norco.

Call 1-800-BENZENE

Internal industry documents prove that the defendants in these cases were aware of the risks of benzene exposure to their employees. We can prove that their warnings were inadequate. The attorneys at Benzene Lawyers have been taking on the petro-chemical industry for years and will continue to do so. We take on Louisiana refinery owners on behalf of workers with leukemia.  If you or a loved has been diagnosed with a blood or bone cancer like AML, MDS, multiple myeloma (MM), or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), please call 1-800-BENZENE to speak with an attorney today.

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