As far back as 1948, many experts have known of the dangers and health
risks of exposure to benzene. In a report linking benzene to leukemia,
a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health noted "that the
only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero." The report
was prepared for the American Petroleum Institute, the petrochemical industry's
main lobbyist. The document shows that oil executives have known or should
have known about the dangers of
benzene exposure for over 60 years; yet, to this day, the industry claims that exposure
only causes extremely rare forms of cancer and only at very high exposure levels.
Uncovering Internal Documents
As lawsuits involving benzene exposure have gained momentum over the past
decades, plaintiff's lawyers across the country have uncovered thousands
of internal memorandums, emails, letters, and meeting minutes that tell
a story of an industry ignoring and covering up key scientific data regarding
the true dangers of benzene exposure. Many of the documents had even been
flagged by attorneys for big oil companies as documents that could be
damaging in future lawsuits and should not be disclosed to the public.
Those documents will soon be made public for workers, journalists, academic
researches, and others to review. Over 20,000 pages of benzene documents
obtained mostly through toxic tort lawsuits will be published in a searchable
online archive by the Center for Public Integrity, Columbia University,
and the City University of New York. The Center for Public Integrity also
plans to release hundreds of thousands of similar documents obtained in
discovery regarding other dangerous toxins such as lead, asbestos, silica,
and PCBs. These documents may very well blow the lid open on a decades
old conspiracy to conceal the true danger of toxic exposure to industrial workers.
The documents reveal a number of different tactics employed by the petrochemical
industry to create doubt about the effects of benzene exposure. Among
the most widely used tactics was funding its own research to release studies
using faulty science to show no adverse effects of benzene exposure. In
fact, experts believe the industry funded more research than any other
industry than the tobacco industry to create doubt about the link between
benzene and various forms of cancer. The documents show that the industry
spent roughly $36 million funding research.
Oil and chemical companies have been notorious for hiring consultants to
publish articles in peer-reviewed journals that would downplay the effects
of benzene exposure. These articles were often used to advance the industry's
position in the regulatory arena and defend oil companies from lawsuits
brought by workers who claim to have fallen ill due to unsafe levels of
benzene exposure. In fact, a former OSHA official cited benzene as "a
good example of how the general scientific literature is being polluted
by people working for the industry."
New Benzene Studies
In 1987, after research about the dangers of benzene exposure continued
to mount, federal regulators set the permissible exposure limit (PEL)
at one part per million. Since that time, benzene emissions have dropped
drastically in the United States. Even with the reduced PEL, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 5 million Americans continue
to be at risk of developing cancer from benzene and other toxins that
are polluted into the air by the nation's oil refineries. In response,
California officials lowered its state's long term benzene exposure
limits from 20 parts per 1 billion to just 1 part per billion.
In 1997, the National Cancer Institute released an important study that
further linked benzene to various types of cancer. In the study, the NCI
reported two key findings. First, the study showed that workers who were
exposed to high levels of benzene had an increased risk of developing
MDS and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Second, the effects could be triggered
by exposure limits as low as the current OSHA PEL. In 2004, the NCI released
a second study showing that Chinese workers who were exposed to benzene
at levels below the OSHA limit had fewer white blood cells than workers
who were not exposed. This suggested that there may not be
any safe level of benzene exposure.
The release of the internal documents has the potential to show that the
petrochemical industry was aware of the risks of benzene exposure and
did not properly protect its employees. If you believe you have developed
cancer as a result of benzene exposure, you may be eligible for compensation
Contact our toxic exposure lawyers today to learn how we can help.