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Occupational Exposure to Benzene can result in Adverse Health Effects

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What is benzene and what is used for?

Benzene, an aromatic hydrocarbon, is mainly derived from petroleum and is used as an intermediate in the chemical industry as well as a solvent in paint, inks, dyes, thinners, adhesives, and coatings. It is also commonly used in the production of polymers, resins, synthetic fibres, and rubber products.

Is Benzene toxic?

Benzene has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a carcinogen based on evidence linking benzene and benzene-containing solvent exposure to the development of leukemia. Furthermore, exposure to derivatives of benzene, such as styrene, as well as other aromatic hydrocarbons such as toluene and xylene have also been linked to adverse health effects.

Who is most at risk of being exposed to benzene?

Those working in the following areas are at an increased risk of exposure:

  • automotive industry including the repair of vehicle fuel systems and taxi drivers
  • firefighting
  • oil refinery or petroleum refinery
  • petrol handling including storage and transport
  • printing
  • rubber and plastic manufacturing
  • steel production

The public can be exposed through the inhalation of fumes from petrol stations, cigarettes, and motor vehicles.

My work has likely exposed me to benzene. Does that mean my health will be affected?

The effects of exposure on an individual depend on several factors including:

  • duration and level of exposure
  • whether there has been cumulative exposure with other toxic substances
  • route of exposure: inhalation, ingestion, or subcutaneous/skin absorption
  • individual susceptibility factors

Although the use of benzene has reduced these days in some areas, for instance its use a solvent, those who were exposed to benzene when it was more commonly used may still experience adverse health effects as there can be a lengthy latency period between exposure and the onset of symptoms.

What are some common symptoms resulting from exposure to benzene?

Common symptoms reported after exposure to benzene include:

  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing
  • disorientation and confusion
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • eye and skin irritation
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • lethargy
  • loss of consciousness
  • sore nose and throat
  • vomiting
  • weakness

Acute and chronic exposure to benzene has been associated with changes to the following systems:

  • Central nervous system
  • Hematologic (blood)
  • Immune
  • Reproductive and developmental
  • Respiratory

What medical conditions can result from exposure?

The effects of benzene exposure on the Hematologic System which is made up of blood, the spleen, bone marrow, and the liver, is widely acknowledged. For instance, it is accepted that benzene exposure is a risk factor for the development of:

  • Acute and chronic lymphocytic leukemia
  • Aplastic anaemia
  • Lung cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Less widely accepted, some studies also suggest a link between benzene exposure and the following cancers:

  • Breast cancer
  • malignant melanoma
  • nasal cancer
  • stomach cancer
  • prostatic cancer

What should I do if I’ve been exposed and feel unwell?

If you or someone you know has worked in an occupation in which they may have been exposed to benzene or a derivate of benzene and are feeling unwell, it is recommended that that person see their general practitioner or specialist to determine if their symptoms may be due to the nature of their past or current employment. It is important that an occupational history is provided and if you don’t feel that your symptoms have been properly investigated that you seek a second opinion and/or request diagnostic testing. Given that the period between exposure and the onset of symptoms can be lengthy by decades for some diseases and illnesses, early preventative measures and detection is recommended where possible.

How can we assist you?

We have a team of experts on occupational diseases, who have seen how traumatic the effects an occupational disease or condition can be on not just the person affected but their family and friends. We have acted for many past and current workers diagnosed with occupational diseases, including a number who have successfully obtained the statutory maximum in lump sum compensation for pain and suffering.

If you have been diagnosed with a disease or are investigating your symptoms that may be due to the nature of your occupation, please contact our office on 03 8527 0200 for an obligation free telephone appointment to speak with one of our expert occupational disease WorkCover lawyers who can advise you on your prospects in pursuing WorkCover compensation and/or entitlements through your superannuation and/or personal insurance policies. You may also submit a FREE CLAIM CHECK ONLINE.

Your road to recovery begins here.

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