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an oil refinery in Chalmette, Louisiana
Herman, Herman & Katz, LLC

A recent report from an environmental group found that several Louisiana refineries are emitting benzene at a higher level than federally allowable, which could have troubling implications for the Louisianians who live and work near these facilities. Long-term exposure to toxic chemicals makes people sick and can even be fatal, and those at risk for side effects may not even realize that they’ve been exposed.

Environmental Integrity Project analyzed the air pollution data that oil refineries provide to the EPA to get their findings. The nonprofit found that almost half of refineries in the U.S. had average benzene readings over three micrograms per cubic meter, which is an emissions standard linked with health problems like reduced blood cell counts and weakened immune systems.

The Louisiana refineries had even more alarming statistics. Four refineries emitted more than nine micrograms of benzene per cubic meter, which is the federal limit. Once a refinery tops that limit, the EPA requires them to create a plan to reduce benzene emissions. Some local refineries exceeded the number by shocking amounts. The Delek USA refinery in Krotz Springs, for example, had an average benzene concentration of 31.1 — more than three times the allowable amount. 

What Is Benzene?

Benzene is a chemical that is emitted as oil burns. It has commercial uses and is utilized to make rubbers, dyes, explosives, and other industrial products. It’s also used in consumer products like detergents, paints, and furniture wax. The crude oil industry relies heavily on benzene, as do pesticide manufacturers and plastic makers.

For all of its benefits, benzene is toxic to human and animal health and detrimental to the environment. The chemical is classified as a pollutant because it can create smog when released into the air, and benzene can contaminate groundwater and soil. Short-term exposure to benzene can cause drowsiness, headaches, and respiratory tract irritation in humans. Symptoms can begin within minutes of exposure.

Exposure becomes long-term once it’s happened for a year or more, and it has even more serious consequences. Chronic benzene inhalation has been linked with aplastic anemia, lowered red blood cell count, and reproductive health conditions. Along with its other adverse health effects, benzene is a known carcinogen. It’s been shown to increase the risk of acute myeloid leukemia, a blood and bone marrow cancer. Even low levels of exposure are linked with an increased chance of developing other blood cancers.

Toxic Exposure Effects

Hearing a doctor say, “you have cancer,” is a devastating, traumatizing experience. Even treatable cases can require chemotherapy, radiotherapy treatment, and surgery. Cancer treatment can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and insurance companies rarely pay these bills fully.

Heartbreakingly, treatment doesn’t guarantee that cancer will go into remission. The survival rate for acute myeloid leukemia, the disease closely associated with benzene, is only 27%. Lifestyle and genetic factors contribute to cancer development, and a cancer patient may not realize that their condition was caused partly by benzene exposure.

The Louisiana oil refineries called out in this report must work with the federal government to reduce emissions, but residents are still inhaling benzene in the meantime. Those who live near the refineries that emit high chemical levels may not know that they are in danger of developing severe health conditions. If you get sick with cancer or another serious illness after being exposed to benzene, it’s imperative to contact a Louisiana personal injury lawyer who has experience with toxic exposure cases. You could be eligible for compensation for your medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other losses. An attorney will know precisely how to go against powerful oil companies and get the settlement you deserve. 

Louisiana contamination lawyers at Herman Herman & Katz are fully equipped to handle any toxic exposure case. We have expert experience and have taken on many of these complex cases. Find out how we can help by calling us at 504-581-4892 or filling out a free case review form.

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