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Benzene is a widely used chemical that pollutes the air and is hazardous to humans. It is a volatile liquid, which means it evaporates quickly when exposed to air. It is colorless, flammable, and has a sweet smell.
Although found in nature, most human exposure to Benzene is the result of industrial activities. Benzene is among the top 20 chemicals produced by volume in the United States.(1)
Benzene is found in gasoline, factory and vehicle emissions, and cigarette smoke. It is also used in a variety of industrial settings.
Women tend absorb benzene at higher levels than men.(10). Once absorbed, the benzene “is rapidly distributed throughout the body and tends to accumulate in fatty tissues”(11). Benzene has been found in breastmilk.(12)
Benzene causes your body’s cells to not work properly.(13) Scientists suspect that one of the ways benzene causes cancer is by damaging DNA in bone marrow.(14)
Studies show a greater rate of leukemia, especially acute myeloid leukemia (AML), in people exposed to high levels of benzene.(15) Labs studies have demonstrated that rats and mice exposed to benzene develop tumors.(16)
People can be exposed to benzene by drinking contaminated water, breathing contaminated air, or eating contaminated food. Benzene is a very common pollutant and has been found in the air of urban and rural locations.(17)
Outdoor air tends to contain low levels of benzene due to pollution from gasoline, vehicle, and factory emissions and cigarette smoke. People who live near gas stations, heavy traffic areas, factories that use or manufacture benzene, and hazardous waste sites may be exposed to higher and more dangerous levels.(18) (19)
Indoor air is another source of benzene exposure. In fact, indoor air often has higher levels of benzene than outdoor air. Fumes from the indoor use of glues, detergents, paints and art supplies, solvents, tobacco products, gasoline, and other products containing benzene can accumulate in enclosed spaces, especially spaces with poor ventilation.
Benzene is used in the production of certain chemicals, plastics, and pharmaceuticals(21). In the past it was used as a solvent in a number of industries, but that use has declined since the EPA listed benzene as a hazardous air pollutant.(22).
Smoke from tobacco products is another way benzene enters the environment. There are also natural sources of benzene in the environment, such as volcanic gas emissions and forest fires.
Benzene in the air breaks down in a few days, but it is much slower to break down in water and soil. Benzene on the ground can enter the air, and benzene in the air can be carried to the ground by rain or snow. Benzene can enter underground water by passing through the soil.(23)
At the federal level, the EPA legally limits the concentration of benzene in drinking water to 5 parts benzene per billion parts of water (5 ppb). States may set even stricter limits.
Weitz & Luxenberg is currently accepting lawsuits on behalf of people in cities, counties, and communities who are suffering from benzene contamination as a result of corporations recklessly dumping or improperly transporting their hazardous waste. Corporations that pollute should be held accountable and made to clean up their mess.
Everyone has a right to clean and safe water, air, and soil. In addition to paying to clean up contamination, polluters should pay for medical monitoring and for treatment of any harmful health consequences of benzene exposure.
If your air, soil, or drinking water is contaminated with harmful levels of benzene, contact your local elected officials, water provider, or both and tell them it’s time to make polluters take responsibility for the damage they’ve caused.
Communities and municipalities are in the best position to take on big corporate polluters. In most cases, it is your water provider (private or municipal) who should be filing a lawsuit.
Cities, towns, and counties whose water is contaminated with benzene in excess of the 5ppb (0.005 mg/L) limit set by the EPA should consider filing a lawsuit. Federal law requires public water suppliers to test their water regularly and produce an annual “Consumer Confidence Report.” Look up your most recent CCR at the EPA website.
Communities suffering from contaminated air and soil may also have a case. Air and soil samples can be sent to a lab for analysis.
Heavily industrial areas are at the greatest risk of high benzene levels in the environment. This is especially true of places with lots of oil refineries, such as Iberville Parish, Louisiana, and chemical manufacturing plants, like the Kanawha Valley region of West Virginia.(24)
Superfund sites like the Kin-Buc Landfill in Edison, New Jersey, and Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York, have also been found to have high levels of benzene.(25) You can search for toxic waste sites with benzene near your home by using the interactive map at toxicsites.us, which uses real-time data from the EPA.
Fracking can release benzene into both the air and water. Communities near shale gas wells are also at risk of benzene pollution.(26)
Weitz & Luxenberg has more than three decades of experience helping innocent people wronged by reckless corporate greed. We have successfully challenged some of the world’s most powerful corporations, including gas companies like ExxonMobil and Shell Oil, to obtain justice for our clients.
We currently represent multiple cities in the fight for clean water. We have filed a lawsuit on behalf of Minnesota cities whose water was polluted by toxic refined coal tar products. We also represent the cities of Hoosick Fall, New York and Petersburgh, New York, as well as the Pennsylvania counties of Bucks and Montgomery, in class action lawsuits over PFOA and PFOS contaminated water.
If your community is suffering from benzene pollution, our experienced team of environmental attorneys is here to help. We will work to make polluters pay to clean up their mess, and ensure your community gets the medical care and monitoring it needs.