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Published on June 23rd, 2022 by Andrew Hughes

As a result of chronic exposure to solvent-based printing inks, many printers and pressmen are at an increased risk for leukemia.

How is Printing Ink Connected to Leukemia?

Chronic exposure to printing ink is connected to leukemia because historically many common solvent-based printing inks contained dangerous amounts of benzene.

Benzene is a carcinogenic aromatic hydrocarbon. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies benzene as a known carcinogen. Examples of other known carcinogens include asbestos, plutonium, and tobacco.

Benzene exposure can lead to numerous diseases including:

How Much Benzene is in Printing Ink?

Printing inks are contaminated with benzene primarily by way of the solvent which is added to the ink. Ink manufacturers add solvents to printing ink to help the pigment (i.e. the color) stick to the printing surface. However, some printing surfaces are more difficult to print on than others. As such, printers and pressmen will often add additional solvent to make the ink more suitable for a particular application. Not all printing solvents contain benzene. Thus, the amount of benzene in a printing ink depends on (1) the type of solvent that is used, and (2) the amount of solvent that is added.

In the United States, pure benzene was widely used as a printing solvent up until the 1960s. Yet, many years laters, when the use of pure benzene was entirely phased out, many solvent-based inks still contained dangerous levels of benzene.

Many of the most popular solvent-based printing inks use petroleum solvents. A petroleum solvent is a solvent which is distilled from petroleum or a petroleum byproduct. Mineral spirits, naphtha, and toluene are all examples of common petroleum solvents.

Benzene is a natural constituent of petroleum. Removing benzene from a petroleum distillate entirely is more costly for the manufacturer. As a result of manufacturers prioritizing cost savings over safety, many printing inks contained excessive amounts of benzene.

Today, the amount of benzene found in petroleum solvent-based inks has been greatly reduced. 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 Dangerous 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 to the benzene in printing ink. When ink is applied, the solvent in the ink evaporates leaving the pigment on the printing surface. Without adequate protection, any benzene in the solvent vapors can quickly make its way into your lungs. The epidemiology that we rely upon to prove these cases establishes that long-term inhalation exposures to low concentrations of benzene are often more harmful than short-term exposures at much higher concentrations.

Dermal exposure to printing ink is also dangerous. Since benzene can be absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream, printers and pressmen who regularly get benzene-containing inks 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 benzene-containing inks can be more damaging. Scientific study has indicated that benzene can be more easily absorbed through the stomach than it is through the lungs or skin. Working with inks and then failing to wash your hands before eating is one such way that harmful ingestion of benzene may occur.

Printing Ink Exposures – Leukemia Verdicts & Settlements

$840,000 verdict (Pennsylvania, 2016)

The Plaintiff, a printer in his mid-50s, sued US Steel after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. The Plaintiff alleged that US Steel manufactured benzene and that the benzene was a component of the inks and solvents he used between 1973 and 2006. He argued that US Steel was aware of the dangers of benzene in the early 1950s, but kept that information from the public and end users. The jury determined that US Steel was recklessly indifferent to the rights and/or safety of others. The jury also found that US Steel fraudulently concealed important information about the dangers of its benzene. The Plaintiff sued other makers and sellers of benzene-containing inks and solvents. However all of the other Defendants either settled before trial or were dismissed from the case.

$1,800,000 aggregate settlement (California, 2009)

The 60-year-old Decedent developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after a 33-year career in the printing industry. During his time working as a lithographic printer, he was exposed to a variety of benzene-containing inks and solvents. The Decedent’s estate named more than 60 Defendants and 1,266 products that they alleged caused the Decedent’s illness. One by one, the Defendants began to settle, culminating in a total settlement value of over $1.8 million.

$975,000 settlement (California, 2006)

The 58-year-old Plaintiff developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after being exposed to benzene in the many inks and solvents he encountered during his 37-year career in the printing industry. During this time he worked as a press operator and in other roles within the industry.

$600,000 settlement (California, 2005)

The Plaintiff, age 29, worked as a silk screen printer for four years. During this time, he was exposed to numerous inks and solvents that contained benzene. As a result of his benzene exposure, he suffered serious injuries to his internal organs, including thrombocytopenic purpura, which required him to undergo a splenectomy. The Plaintiff agreed to settle with the Defendants for a total amount exceeding $600,000.

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 worked as a printer or pressman and have received a leukemia diagnosis, call Benzene Lawyers today at 1-800-BENZENE. Find out if you have a claim against the manufacturers of these benzene products.

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