Benzene Related Illnesses

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What is benzene?
Benzene is one of the most commonly used chemicals in the United States. It is a light colored, or colorless, sweet smelling chemical. It is highly flammable, evaporates rapidly, and dissolves quickly in water.

Benzene is naturally occurring, as well as created through human processes. It is found in volcanoes, as well as forest fires. It also is found in crude oil, gasoline, and tobacco smoke. In addition, benzene is utilized in the production of chemical solvents, rubbers, paints, detergents, plastics, and resins. It is also found in a number of other common household items.

Individuals may be exposed to benzene in a variety of ways. Benzene is found in low levels in outdoor air from tobacco smoke, gas stations, exhaust and industrial emissions. Indoor air also contains benzene, often in higher levels that outdoor air. Indoors, benzene typically comes from various products like detergents, solvents, paints or glues. Tobacco smoke attributes to the largest amounts of benzene exposure. However, individuals who work with products that utilize benzene, or make benzene, are at risk for long-term exposure to the chemical.

Immediate symptoms of benzene exposure
If people are exposed to benzene by breathing it in, drinking, or eating it they may experience immediate symptoms. These may include, but are not limited to, dizziness, nausea, headaches, drowsiness, confusion, convulsions, rapid or irregular heartbeat, or death (as a result of very high levels of exposure).

Chronic illnesses and long-term health effects of benzene exposure
When exposed to benzene over a long period of time (a year or more) benzene can have serious health effects. Benzene has been found to cause certain cells in the body to not work properly. For instance, benzene can cause bone marrow to not produce enough red blood cells, which can result in anemia. In addition, it can also damage the bone marrow, which can cause a change in the development of white blood cells and antibodies used to fight infection. Benzene exposure has also been attributed to a change in a woman's menstrual cycle and a decrease in the size of the ovaries.

Most ill-effected by long-term exposure to benzene is the blood. Anemia is one of the major chronic health problems people can have from benzene exposure. With anemia, the body lacks enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body, to tissues and organs. Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, pale skin, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and headaches. Many times anemia goes unnoticed; however, symptoms worsen as the condition worsens. Treatments for anemia vary and may or may not cure it, depending on the type of anemia an individual is diagnosed with.

Long-term exposure to benzene can also result in very serious medical conditions, like the development of various forms of leukemia. Types of leukemia that may be associated with benzene exposure include chronic myelogenous leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and hair cell leukemia.

Leukemia is type of cancer that affects the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the spongy tissue in the bones that produces white blood cells, which the body uses to fight infection and disease. When leukemia occurs, too many or not enough white blood cells may be produced, or they may be damaged, causing serious problems. Treatments for leukemia include chemotherapy, drug treatments, bone marrow stem cell transplants, or participation in clinical trials.

What do you do if you are experiencing a chronic illness that may be attributed to benzene exposure?

If you are suffering from a chronic illness, such as anemia or leukemia, and have also had long-term exposure to benzene, you may wish to seek the advice of a legal professional. A lawyer who is familiar with benzene and chronic illnesses related to it can help guide you through the legal process and help you to determine if you have a case to make a claim. This will be particularly beneficial if your exposure to benzene was linked to your occupation.

With support groups, family, friends, education about your illness, and the knowledge that there are people to help you, you will find a way to cope with your illness.