Recently, workers in another state were given no protections by their employer who sent them to excavate toxic soil near a gas plant where a spill had occurred in March. Among other things, the employer failed to give them respirators, so they were breathing in toxic fumes as they worked. The workers were excavating for super-concentrated hydrocarbons and were exposed to benzene and other dangerous compounds.
The spill in March let loose over 10,000 gallons of hydrocarbon liquids as the result of a mechanical failure. Benzene, classified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as a Class A carcinogen, entered a creek. Breathing contaminated air can cause genetic damage that is linked to childhood leukemia. Leukemia is a kind of cancer of the blood or bone marrow. It causes an abnormal boost in immature while blood cells. It is treatable, but the treatments mostly include things like chemotherapy or medical radiation. Currently researchers are studying a possible direct connection between benzene exposure and leukemia in children. Benzene can cause fertility issues in both men and women.
OSHA issued more than $27,000 worth of fines in this case. Under federal law, workers dealing with a chemical spill must be given respirators and be trained so that they understand the dangers—in their own language. Benzene is a chemical commonly used to make other chemicals and produce drugs, rubber, detergent and pesticide. Benzene exposure can lead to both short-term and long-term problems. Workers should be aware that the chemicals directly affect the cells of a person’s body.
Benzene and other chemical exposures are not limited to those workers who clean a chemical spill, however. In fact, a study showed that people who lived within two blocks of a gas station in Oregon were exposed to benzene at a level that caused an increased risk for leukemia. Oregon has higher levels of benzene exposure at the gas station than many other states, but it is still worth noting these frightening statistics in states like Massachusetts for how they may translate to work environments.
Another kind of worker that may be exposed to benzene are shipyard workers. In one study, workers were exposed to large quantities of benzene while degassing shipboard fuel tanks. They had neurotoxic symptoms and those who had to work in these conditions for more than two days of acute exposure were more likely to report dizziness or nausea than those with less.
Other workers likely to be exposed in Massachusetts are painters, newspaper press workers, rubber workers, gas distribution workers, workers at refineries, shoe workers, pesticide workers, printers and chemical workers of all kinds.
The fact that some of benzene’s effects may be long-term or affect your offspring means that you must be especially careful if you work near or with benzene. You should not take clothes contaminated with benzene home to wash. There should be eye wash fountains at the place where you are working with benzene. These are just some of the precautions that should be taken.
It is illegal for an employer to fire you for filing a worker’s compensation claim. If you have been exposed to a toxic chemical and are suffering ill effects that a doctor or other health care professional has told you is related to your job, contact the experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at Kantrovitz & Associates for a free consultation at 617-367-0880 or contact us via our online form.