Environmental Protection

Dallas Law Firm Cautions Spill Workers about Benzene Exposure

While Gulf of Mexico coast fishermen and others have lost their livelihoods due to the spill, some who have been hired to clean up the oil washing up on beaches and marshes risk toxic exposure.

"Workers helping with the cleanup will likely be exposed to benzene through crude oil,” said Allen Vaught, an attorney with Dallas law firm Baron & Budd, P.C. “Benzene exposure can cause certain cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and children are especially susceptible. Cleanup workers need to be monitored or warned about the hazards of benzene exposure. The latency period of benzene can be anywhere from 2 to 50 years. That's a serious health impact that can last for half a century.”

Vaught has experience dealing with benzene exposure cases due to his work as an environmental attorney for the past decade.

Benzene is a known byproduct of crude oil, both on land and underwater. The biggest concern in this case is the food supply and the workers directly exposed to crude. Fish are highly susceptible to benzene due to bioaccumulation ─ it permeates their tissue in the water. Crude oil has been known to irritate skin, eyes and lungs and inhaling crude oil vapors can cause other health problems such as headaches, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, wheezing and asthma.

Volunteers who helped clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill 20 years ago are now feeling the long-term effects of exposure to oil. What some medical experts originally diagnosed as a case of the flu turned out to be more serious.

"This is very different than in the Exxon Valdez case when the crude was more centralized, which made the exposure easier to control,” Vaught said. “Instead, we're dealing with multiple plumes spread over a larger area that could take years to clean up.”

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