Benzene is one of the 20 most commonly used chemicals in America. It is also a known cause of leukemia and other cancers.
Thousands of people have sued large companies over exposure, resulting in multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements. Research into the carcinogen led the federal government to limit exposure in the workplace. The standards, adopted in 1987, are 50 times lower than old standards.
Some research suggests that exposure limits are still too high. It can take years, or even decades, after exposure before the cancer develops.
Claims Allege Dumping, Failure to Warn
Benzene is contaminating the environment and harming people in numerous ways, including through oil production, wastewater from fracking and the use of benzene-containing products by different kinds of workers. Therefore, the claims in the lawsuits are varied.
For example, the Center for Biological Diversity sued California’s Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board on Sept. 5, 2018, alleging the board’s decision to allow dumping of toxic oil waste in 83 unlined pits spread harmful chemicals, including benzene, in underground water supplies.
“Despite knowing this contamination is spreading, the water board is letting the oil industry continue this dangerous dumping, It’s a slap in the face to the families, farms and businesses that depend on the Central Valley’s precious water resources.”
New Jersey Files Six Lawsuits
On the East Coast, New Jersey filed six lawsuits on Aug. 1, 2018 to recover damages for the harm caused by pollution to properties, groundwater and waterways across the state. Benzene was among the pollutants mentioned in the lawsuits, which sought to recover costs the state has paid to clean the sites up.
In one lawsuit against Deull Fuel Co., the state cited the operation of a manufactured gas plant near an intracoastal waterway by downtown Atlantic City. The lawsuit says the plant discharged hazardous substances onto the property, and they migrated into surface water and sediments. The area is polluted with hazardous substances lawsuit says.
Farmer Fights Companies
And in the middle of the country, an Illinois farmer and mechanic filed a lawsuit Aug. 13, 2018, against seven manufacturers of benzene-related products. Alan Bruce Cole accused the companies of making and distributing products dangerous to human health and failing to warn the public of the dangers. He said the products caused him to develop acute myeloid leukemia and other health problems.
Report: Industry Knew About Risks
The Center for Public Integrity has reported that companies hid benzene’s cancer risk. The center published a report in 2014 that said companies knew as early as 1948 that benzene could cause cancer.
The center’s report said companies spent $36 million for research saying benzene was safe. The report relied on thousands of pages of company documents.
Verdicts, Jury Awards
There have been several multimillion-dollar verdicts and jury awards in the last 28 years.
A federal jury in 1990 awarded $34 million to the widow of a Wichita, Kansas man who died from leukemia.
Otis Mason died on Dec. 10, 1979 after he was exposed to benzene about 12 times in the 1970s while serving in the Coast Guard as an instructor. A federal appeals court later reduced the award against Texaco Inc. to $21 million.
The widow, Diana Mason, accepted the reduced amount offered by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1991.
A Philadelphia jury awarded an $824,000 verdict in a benzene leukemia lawsuit. Louis DeSorbo claimed benzene in printing solvents caused his acute myeloid leukemia.
A Texas jury awarded an $8.2 million verdict. Virgil Hood claimed benzene in DuPont paint products caused his acute myeloid leukemia.
The Nevada Supreme Court upheld a $7.5 million dollar jury verdict. Rick Lewis drove a gasoline tanker for six years. His job exposed him to benzene, and he later died of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). A jury awarded the verdict in 2011.
In March 2018, residents in and near Roxana, Illinois were awarded a settlement of $4.83 million in their lawsuit charging Shell Oil and its affiliates with releasing benzene, contaminating the water and harming their property values. A federal judge ordered Shell and ConocoPhillips to settle the class action complaint brought on behalf of residents who had lived on 183 affected properties between 1986 and 2017. The lawsuit centered on a refinery that had 18 spills over 25 years, releasing more than 200,000 pounds of benzene.
U.S. Steel Approves Agreement for Ex-Mechanic
In 2017, U.S. Steel agreed to an undisclosed settlement in Pennsylvania lawsuit. The settlement came after three weeks of trial, but before the jury returned a verdict. Former mechanic Michael Butts claimed benzene exposure caused his acute myelogenous leukemia.
BP Resolves Suit Filed for Chemical Release
In 2016, BP announced it would settle 25,000 benzene lawsuits in Texas. People filed lawsuits after a 40-day leak at a Texas City chemical plant. The leak released 500,000 pounds of toxic chemicals the air. The company did not say how much it paid.
Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.