john tomlinson Petrochemical workers’ benzene exposure risk likely higher after Hurricane HarveyAs Hurricane Harvey tore through Texas in August, the focus was on the more immediate effects. Now that the waters have subsided and clean-up and rebuilding efforts are underway, the longer-term effects have taken center stage.

Among them is the heightened risk petroleum industry workers face of being exposed to the carcinogen benzene. The occupation is already at a high risk of exposure, which is a cause for cancers of the blood including Acute Myeloid Leukemia, Myelodysplastic Syndrome, lymphomas and aplastic anemia, as Beasley Allen had explained.

More than a dozen petrochemical plants reported “damaged storage tanks, ruptured containment systems and malfunctioning pressure relief valves” because of the natural disaster, according to the Houston Chronicle. The full impact of the damage may not be completely realized for months.

In the meantime, experts are concerned that recent budget cuts to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) budget slashed the number of inspectors, effectively reducing the available resources necessary to inspect companies for worker safety violations. The agency is a section of the U.S. Department of Labor, which officially halted workplace inspections in Harvey-affected areas with no indication of when the inspections will resume.

Experts are also concerned that normal procedures will be lax during the “emergency situation.” Those procedures include measures designed to help reduce workers’ benzene exposure.

Benzene is a sweet-smelling toxic chemical, and exposure occurs when the toxin is inhaled or absorbed through the skin or eyes. Petroleum refining and extraction workers are at an increased risk of exposure because the chemical is a byproduct of the oil-refining processes, the National Center for Biotechnology Information explains.

Prolonged exposure to benzene can cause Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), which is a group of bone marrow disorders that can progress to Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). A person may experience AML symptoms gradually and, initially, they may not connect the symptoms to AML, but blood tests may reveal a reduced red cell count, sometimes with a reduced white cell count and/or reduced platelet counts. These tests, along with bone marrow tests, are used to diagnose AML.

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If you would like more information about benzene exposure and benzene-related cancers such as AML, you can contact John Tomlinson, a lawyer in our Toxic Torts Section. He can be reached at 800-898-2034 or by email You can also find more information at

Houston Chronicle
Beasley Allen
National Center for Biotechnology Information

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