Known as a cancer of the plasma cells, multiple myeloma is a rare cancer often attributable to benzene exposure. It affects less than 200,000 people each year, but typically has a low survival rate due to its late stage diagnosis.
Plasma cells are found in the bone marrow and play an important role in the immune system. When these plasma cells begin to grow uncontrollably, they produce tumors which overtake normal blood cells. The tumors care called plasmacytomas, and if more than one plasmacytoma is found, then it is called multiple myeloma.
Myeloma interferes with the cells that are responsible for breaking down bones for bone re-growth. The process for breaking down the bones increases, but the cells responsible for making new bones are unable to repair and grow new bones fast enough. This results in bones being very weak and fracturing easily, even if just from a minor injury.
As the plasma cells become overgrown, it can edge out red blood cells resulting in a low red blood cell count. This is called anemia and is typically accompanied with general weakness, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Reduced white blood cell counts are also attributable to myeloma, lowering the body’s ability to fight off other infections. Finally, multiple myeloma can result in low levels of blood platelets which mean an individual is more prone to bruising and serious bleeding from minor cuts and scrapes.
Since plasma is an integral part of the immune system, once the plasma is infected, the immune system is compromised and the body is unable to fight off infections and responds slowly to treatment. One of the most common infections among multiple myeloma patients that can be very serious is pneumonia. Other signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma involve kidney problems, nerve damage, and hyperviscosity (thickening of blood).
Occupational Diseases: Benzene and Multiple Myeloma
Breathing in benzene or contact through the skin is a serious health risk in many professions that are exposed to benzene on a daily basis. Benzene can be found affecting workers in steel manufacturing facilities as toxic fumes are released through burning large amounts of coal and turning it into coke. It can affect every part of the facility, putting all employees at risk for exposure. Facilities responsible for manufacturing chemicals, plastics, Styrofoam, nylon, and other synthetic fibers also exposed their workers to benzene as benzene played a key part in the manufacturing of these products.
As a solvent, benzene was stored in multiple gallon drums for which workers from the petrochemical industry, synthetic rubber plants, and chemical facilities would dip their tools and soak their boots and gloves to clean and remove substances such as tar. To better remove oil stains, benzene was used in the dry cleaning process and among shoe makers; adhesives containing benzene and toluene were common in manufacturing. Many of those who worked in these industries were loyal, life-long employees who breathed in this deadly carcinogen on a daily basis; completely unaware of the serious health ramifications associated with the substance.
Even though benzene use has declined sharply over the past 30 years, experts believes it is still a threat as the risk is still high for many occupational groups as well as certain populations affected by pollution. The workplace exposure limit for benzene is one part per million (1 ppm) of air over an 8-hour period and if companies do not comply, workers are at risk of over exposure. Employers have a certain duty to make sure their facility continually monitors benzene levels and makes their employees aware of the hazards.
If you are suffering from multiple myeloma and you worked in one of these industries, chances are you were exposed to benzene and may be entitled to compensation. Contact Goldberg, Persky & White to speak to one of our experienced benzene attorneys for a free case review and consultation.