Benzene and Silica Oilfield Risks

Oil and gas workers have a lot to worry about in the course of their jobs. According to some measures, their industry’s workplace fatality rate is as much as seven times higher than the average workplace. And one of the greatest hazards facing such workers is the danger inherent in exposure to such chemicals such as benzene and materials such as silica, which is used in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” At the recent American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Exposition (AIHce) in Montreal, workplace safety experts discussed the problems related to both, and suggested possible steps that could be taken to reduce the potential risk.

Benzene, which is a colorless, very flammable liquid that oil and gas workers come in contact with every day, is extremely dangerous, regardless of whether or not the exposure is short-term or long-term, and whether it comes in contact with the skin, or the vapors are inhaled. Among the potential consequences include several types of anemia and leukemia. Benzene is so dangerous, it has been put on a list of dangerous chemicals put out by the American Cancer Society (ACS).

In most cases, exposure to benzene comes through inhalation of the vapors, and the danger of exposure depends on a number of factors, including the volume of exposure, the temperature of the benzene, and the amount of proper ventilation.

With the rise in the use of fracking, the dangers of silica, which is used to break down rock to release the oil and gas, are getting a new look. While silica is a natural component of sand and soil, extended exposure can lead to several bronchial diseases, up to and including silicosis and lung cancer. Because quartz is a major component, the silica used in fracking has an extremely low threshold of acceptable exposure; about half the exposure level of lead.

Among the prevention methods discussed at the conference included respirators, which are considered one of the most basic and effective steps, and full face masks, which are even better. If you or a loved one have contracted an illness or died working in the oil and gas industry, and you suspect the problems were caused by benzene and/or silica exposure, call Hill Law Firm today.

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