Acute Health Effects Of Benzene Exposure

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What is benzene?

One of the most common chemicals used in the United States, benzene is a colorless or light colored, sweet smelling chemical. It is highly flammable, evaporates quickly, and dissolves slightly in water.

Benzene occurs naturally, as well as from the results of human actions. Naturally, benzene can be found in volcanoes and in the smoke from forest fires, as well as in crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke. In addition, in connection with human actions, benzene is used in the manufacture of products such as paint, chemical solvents, rubbers, detergents, nylon, and other items.

How are people exposed to benzene?

Because benzene occurs in many substances and as a result of a variety of factors, there are many ways in which people can be exposed. Low levels of benzene can be found in outdoor air, which can be attributed to exhaust from motor vehicles, gasoline, cigarette smoke, and industrial emissions. Higher levels of benzene can often be found indoors. Benzene indoors can come from products like detergents, solvents, and furniture wax, as well as glue and paint.

In addition to environmental exposure to benzene, people who smoke or are exposed to second hand smoke are likely to be exposed to benzene in high levels. People who manufacture benzene or manufacture products that use it are also at risk for benzene exposure. In addition, occupations such as firefighters, lab technicians, and printers may also be at risk for long-term benzene exposure.

What are common immediate symptoms of benzene exposure?

Immediate effects of benzene exposure from breathing or ingesting include headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, rapid or irregular heartbeat, vomiting, stomach irritation, convulsions, or unconsciousness. If the skin, eyes, or lungs are exposed to benzene, an individual can experience irritation or tissue damage.

What happens when people are exposed to benzene over a long period of time?

Once in the body, benzene can have a significant impact on the blood and bone marrow. Benzene causes cells to work improperly. For instance, benzene can cause bone marrow to change its cell production, causing it to not produce enough red blood cells, which can lead to the development of anemia. Likewise, benzene exposure may cause a change in blood levels of antibodies, which can in turn cause a loss of white blood cells which are used to fight infection. This can lead to a weakened or damaged immune system.

What are some acute health effects attributed to benzene exposure?

Because benzene affects blood and bone marrow, illnesses connected to blood and bone marrow are common with benzene exposure. Acute illnesses are ones that tend to develop and progress rather quickly. Acute health effects that may be connected to benzene exposure include acute anemia, acute myelogenous leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, and acute lymphocytic leukemia.

Anemia - When an individual has anemia, the number of red blood cells in the blood is low. This has a negative affect on an individual, as red blood cells carry oxygen to tissue and organs in the body. Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, pale skin, shortness of breath, cold hands and feet, chest pain, or an irregular heartbeat. There are a number of different types of anemia, including anemia of chronic disease, aplastic anemia, and hemolytic anemia; treatments of anemia vary depending on the type.

Leukemia - Leukemia, of which there are a few types, is a type of cancer that affects the bone marrow and blood. When an individual has leukemia their bone marrow does not properly develop white blood cells; they may have abnormalities, or there may not be enough cells developed. As a result, an individual's immune system may be weakened and they may be more susceptible to infection. Types of leukemia that may be associated with benzene exposure include acute myelogenous leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia, chronic myelogenous leukemia, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

What should you do if you believe you are suffering from health affects attributed to benzene exposure?

If you or someone you know has an acute health problem associated with benzene exposure, it may benefit you to contact a legal professional. A lawyer familiar with benzene exposure and related health effects can guide you through the legal process and help you to determine what your next steps should be.