Over the years, there have been numerous lawsuits against companies that deal in benzene-related products. People filing benzene lawsuits allege that they developed cancer from work-related exposure to benzene chemicals for at least one year. Despite many studies showing the close link between benzene and blood-related cancers, the chemical is still one of the most used and produced chemicals in the US. There have also been consumer lawsuits whereby companies have had to recall benzene-contaminated sunscreens. Benzene lawsuit verdicts and settlements so far have been worth millions of dollars.
The US government has put up various measures to limit benzene exposure in the workplace. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to ensure that no employee is exposed to airborne benzene concentration exceeding one part of benzene per million parts of air (1 ppm) as an 8-hour time-weighted average. Also, no employee should be exposed to an airborne benzene concentration over five (5) ppm as averaged over 15 minutes.
These standards have faced a lot of criticism as employees are still developing cancer from these presumed safe levels of exposure. API has been to court challenging the benzene exposure federal regulations of chemical exposure at the workplace, losing in a case that lasted for close to a decade.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there may be no safe level of benzene exposure. Also, The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) warn that there are no safe levels of benzene exposure for humans. Studies carried out by the institution in 2004, Annals of Work Exposures and Health, showed Chinese factory workers exposed to benzene levels considered safe in the US to have indications of bone marrow issues that can precede cancer.
The US Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Health and Human Services classify benzene as a “known human carcinogen.” Cancers related to benzene exposure include:
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Multiple myeloma
- Chronic Myeloid Leukemia
- Acute myeloid leukemia
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia
Benzene occurs naturally in crude oil and is used to manufacture many products, including paint, glue, solvents, chemicals, and synthetics. Employees of companies dealing with benzene and its products are exposed to the chemical every day.
The Center for Public Integrity investigation uncovered that petroleum companies have been interfering with scientific studies that linked low-level benzene exposure to cancer. In 1948, a study by the American Petroleum Institute on the link between benzene and leukemia concluded that the only safe benzene concentration levels were zero. The institution carries out studies and funds projects in the interest of member petroleum companies, including heading off benzene lawsuits and other workers-related issues. An investigative review by journalists involving 20,000 internal communications established that the petroleum industry has known about the link between benzene and leukemia since 1948.
Benzene Verdicts and Settlements
Benzene lawsuits often encounter challenges in court and require attorneys, environmental experts, labor law experts, and medical specialists to prove liability. Cases that succeed in court end up in large settlements. Hugh Stephens is an environmental lawyer who represents victims of benzene work-related injuries. Contact Stephens and Stephens EEOICPA claim attorneys if you or a loved one suffered benzene injuries from work-related exposure. Our services are contingency-based.
Here are some examples of benzene lawsuits:
The family of the Eaves brothers vs Chevron
Gary and Randy Eaves had been working in an Arkansas tire factory for decades before they were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia. They both worked as spray booth operators spraying solvent to tires and carrying them to another location. The company bought the solvent-making machine in 2005. In 2015, Gary died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and Randy died of leukemia in 2018. The families filed lawsuits against the company, alleging that benzene exposure led to the illnesses and death of the two. They also alleged that the two never wore personal protective equipment at work, and Chevron never warned them of the product’s dangers. A California court awarded the family $21.4 Million.
Auto mechanic vs. multiple companies Benzene lawsuits
Jimmy Thomas, an auto-mechanic and painter, worked in an auto repair shop for decades between 1967 and 2008, where he used benzene paint-related products. He was later diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, a cancer that affects blood and bone marrow. Jimmy sued a group of paint manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, claiming that their products led to his illness. The defendants paid him $6.3 Million in 2019, days before the case went to trial.
$5.1M Benzene Lawsuit Verdict (California, 2002)
The plaintiff, a 51-year-old merchant seaman, worked on the defendant’s vessels, hauling crude oil to Southern California from Alaska. He alleged to have experienced chronic benzene exposure in his line of duty, cleaning the tanks and loading and unloading crude oil. He worked on this job for seven years before he was diagnosed with Stage III bladder cancer and underwent chemotherapy, radiation, and multiple surgeries. In his defense, the defendant attributed the cancer to the plaintiff’s smoking history. He was, however, awarded $1.27M in economic damages and $3.84M in non-economic damages. However, the jury attributed 15% fault to the plaintiff and reduced the net award accordingly.
Benzene-contaminated J&J sunscreen recall lawsuits
In July 2021, Johnson and Johnson recalled some Aveeno and Neutrogena aerosol sunscreen brands after lab testing indicated some batches contained benzene. During the recall, J&J advised its consumers to stop using the products immediately, adding that benzene wasn’t part of the ingredients and that they had yet to establish how the contamination occurred.
The recalled J&J brands include Aveeno Protect + Refresh, Neutrogena Beach Defense, Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport, Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense, and Neutrogena Ultra Sheer aerosol sunscreens. People who used these recalled sunscreens and later developed cancer are suing the company.
Valisure asked the FDA to recall benzene-containing sunscreens that tested positive for benzene. Valisure, an online pharmacy, and lab, found benzene in 78 commonly used sunscreen products, including Banana Boat, CVS Health, and other brands. Some J&J sunscreens not mentioned in the recall also tested positive for benzene. Also, Aerosol dry shampoo and conditioner sprays from six brands containing traces of benzene were recalled by Proctor & Gamble. They include Hair Food, Pantene, Old Spice, Aussie, Herbal Essences, and Waterless (Waterl<ss).
In February 2022, a Florida judge gave preliminary approval to settle the class-action lawsuit over Johnson & Johnson’s contaminated sunscreen. The company must improve its testing protocols and extend its refund program by providing $1.75 million in vouchers.
Banana Boat Recall Class Action
After lab tests showed traces of benzene in several products, Edgewell Personal Care Company recalled more benzene-containing products. The company first recalled Banana Boat Hair & Scalp Sunscreen Spray SPF 30 in 2022. In January 2023, it expanded the list to include other products batch codes 20016AF, 20084BF, 21139AF, and 20301CF- the codes are printed at the bottom of the product.
The company explained that benzene is not an ingredient but contamination from a propellant that sprays the product out of the can. The company added that they discovered the contamination during their internal reviews and refunded consumers who purchased the recalled products.
A class action lawsuit has been filed against the company since November 2021, when the Valisure report indicated that some of the company’s products contained benzene. Some of the Banana Boat products found to contain benzene include Banana Boat UltraMist Deep Tanning Dry Oil Continuous Clear Spray SPF 4, Banana Boat Kids Max Protect & Play Sunscreen C-Spray SPF 100, Banana Boat Ultra Sport Clear Sunscreen Spray SPF 100, Banana Boat Kids Sport Sunscreen Lotion Spray SPF 50, Banana Boat Protective Dry Oil Clear Sunscreen Spray with Coconut Oil SPF 15, Banana Boat Simply Protect Kids Sunscreen Spray SPF 50+ and Banana Boat Ultra Defense Ultra Mist Clear Sunscreen Spray SPF 100.
Benzene verdicts do not always end up in settlements. There are instances where the plaintiff fails to prove liability, and the cases result in “not guilty” verdicts.
To limit benzene exposure at the workplace, companies that use benzene-related chemicals are required to provide a safe environment for their employees by:
- Using alternative, safer chemicals
- Enclosing benzene containers to avoid spilling or splashing
- Installing ventilation hoods to seal the toxic gas
- Providing employees with respirators and other personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Regular OSHA safety inspections and implementation recommendations
Employers who disregard their employees’ safety and expose them to toxic chemicals can be held liable. Employees who are diagnosed with benzene-related cancers after workplace exposure to the chemical can seek compensation for their suffering and medical expenses.
People working in companies that use benzene are likely to have high levels of exposure. These include:
- petrochemicals industries
- oil and gas refining
- chemical coke and coal manufacturing
- rubber tire manufacturing
- storage and transport of benzene and benzene-containing petroleum products
- Gasoline fueling stations
Benzene exposure and leukemia
Leukemia is a cancer affecting white blood cells or leucocytes responsible for protecting the body against infections. It is a malignant progressive disease affecting the bone marrow and other blood-producing organs. The disease leads an increase in the production of immature and abnormal leukocytes. As a result, the person suffers from anemia symptoms because the abnormal blood cells produced cannot fully perform the required functions.
Studies by the National Cancer Institute and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have shown a link between benzene exposure and leukemia. Benzene exposure through inhalation, or skin absorption, is linked to various blood cancers as discussed below.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)
Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, or Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, is the most common leukemia associated with benzene exposure. It starts from the bone marrow, where new blood cells are formed causing the formation of abnormal leucocytes called myeloblast. This type of blood cancer is “acute,” meaning it can progress quickly, leading to death within months if not treated. It occurs more in children than adults and accounts for 20% of adult leukemia cases. Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) is also known by other names, including acute myelocytic leukemia, acute myelogenous leukemia, acute granulocytic leukemia, and acute non-lymphocytic.
Chronic Myeloid Leukemia
Chronic Myeloid Leukemia or chronic myelogenous leukemia is a rare form of leukemia that also begins in the bone marrow. It is associated with a genetic change in early or immature myeloid cells — the cells that produce all blood cells, including red blood cells, platelets, and types of white blood cells. The change leads to an abnormal gene called BCR-ABL, which causes the formation of CML cells.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) is also a type of blood and bone marrow cancer. “Chronic,” meaning that it progresses more slowly than others. The disease is common in older adults. According to the CDC, chronic lymphocytic leukemia affects four people in a 100,000 population in the US.
Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a blood cancer affecting lymphocytes or white blood cells, which help fight pathogens. Since blood cells circulate throughout the body, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma can occur in any part. The disease is specifically associated with workplace exposure to carcinogens, such as benzene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and glyphosate, and it affects 70,000 people in the US annually.
Benzene exposure can also lead to other cancers, including multiple myeloma, myelodysplastic syndrome/Myelodysplasia, and Aplastic anemia- a condition where the bone marrow does not make enough blood cells. In most cases, the disease is diagnosed long after exposure, and the worker doesn’t realize the disease occurred from benzene exposure.
How does benzene cause leukemia?
Benzene exposure can be through contact, ingestion, or inhalation. According to medical research, benzene is metabolized in the liver, and some of the chemical by-products travel to the bone marrow, where they create a toxic environment inhibiting its ability to manufacture healthy blood cells.
According to the CDC, the risk of developing blood cancer from benzene exposure depends on the levels of exposure and the period of exposure, among other factors. Long-term exposure is at least one year. Also, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), prolonged exposure (over years) can have a cumulative effect.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports suggest that benzene can cause a risk of one more cancer case for every 100,000 people who:
- regularly drink water containing 10 parts per billion (ppb) of benzene over their lifetime
- breathe in 0.4 ppb of benzene in the air regularly during their lifetime
Signs of benzene exposure
The symptoms of leukemia may appear years after exposure to benzene, including fatigue, weight loss, night sweats, fever, and loss of appetite. There are, however, symptoms that a person may experience immediately after exposure to high levels of benzene, and they include dizziness, headache, drowsiness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, confusion, loss of consciousness, and death in cases of extremely high benzene exposure.
When ingested, the chemical immediately triggers stomach irritation, dizziness, vomiting, convulsions, sleepiness, irregular or rapid heartbeat, and even death in extreme conditions.
Long-term effects of benzene exposure
- The most significant effect of long-term benzene exposure of at least one year is leukemia. Whereby the chemical interferes with the production of red blood cells, causing anemia, compromised immunity/ frequent infections, and excessive bleeding.
- The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reports that benzene exposure may cause cancer in humans. Frequent exposure lasting for a year or longer can cause leukemia or cancer of the blood-forming organs. Workers exposed to high levels of benzene, such as those working in oil refineries, are likely to suffer from acute myeloid leukemia.
- In women, prolonged exposure to benzene can result in irregular menstrual periods and smaller ovary size.
- Animal studies on benzene exposure through inhalation during pregnancy have shown an increased risk of low birth weight, delays in bone formation, and damage to the bone marrow.
What to do if exposed to benzene
If exposed to high levels of airborne benzene, the CDC advises everyone present to leave the area immediately and go outside if they are inside. In case of physical contact with clothing or skin, the individual should wash it off and immediately seek medical assistance. CDC also recommends cutting off the clothing to avoid touching other body parts when removing.
Benzene can be removed from the skin with plenty of soap and water. If it comes into contact with the eyes, rinse them with fresh water for about fifteen minutes, and if you are wearing contact lenses, remove and dispose of them.
Contact Hugh Stephens for help filing a Benzene lawsuit
Stephens and Stephens Benzene exposure attorneys represent victims of Benzene injuries at workplace. Filing a lawsuit aginst your employer can help you get compensation for your pain and suffering. Call us today for a free case evaluation.