Benzene, also sometimes called benzol, is a common derivative of petroleum. Benzene has various uses as a solvent, as a motor fuel, and in the production of other chemicals such as phenol. Benzene is colorless and flammable and even at very low concentrations, it causes leukemia. Lipsitz & Ponterio represents one family from Niagara County in a lawsuit against Ashland Oil for benzene-induced leukemia which caused the death of a former Durez worker exposed to pure benzene used in the production of phenol.

Our client was a welder exposed to benzene in the 1960s while changing bolts, gaskets and phalanges on pipes that were leaking benzene. Benzene is volatile and quickly gives off vapors which are inhaled. The liquid is also absorbed through the skin.

Although our client was never warned about the potential for benzene to cause blood diseases, including leukemia, the industry knew as early as 1948 that multiple exposures were linked to the development of leukemias. The petroleum industry also knew that susceptibility varied from one worker to another and that the only sure way to prevent benzene poisoning was to keep concentrations in the atmosphere at zero. The industry also advised against any skin contact, but workers at Durez in the 1960’s were never warned of this either.

Exposure to benzene causes genetic damage to the blood cells located in the bone marrow. Benzene can also cause a more general poisoning to the bone marrow known as aplastic anemia. 

Benzene has been associated with acute leukemia since 1928. Leukemia can be treated and, in some cases, cured. Unfortunately, there are cases, such as that of our client, where intensive and painful treatment leads to temporary remission, followed by the return of a much more difficult to control stage of the disease. Eventually, further control may become impossible and death results.

If you were occupationally exposed to benzene, make sure your doctor is aware of your work history, since initial symptoms of disease may be vague and hard to diagnose.