Benzene is a chemical widely used in a number of industries and products, particularly the oil and petroleum industry. Most people remain unaware of the toxic danger of benzene exposure, which can happen by inhalation or skin absorption.
Once benzene enters the bloodstream, it affects the bone marrow and blood forming cells, which damages white and red blood cells, as well as platelets. It is a confirmed carcinogen and has been linked to a variety of cancers and blood diseases in humans. Many people that work in industries where benzene is present have experienced benzene-related leukemia and lymphoma.
The American Cancer Society has named benzene exposure as an official risk factor of Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). The chemical has also been linked to Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), lymphomas and aplastic anemia.
When the Albany South End railway in New York began transporting oil by rail in 2012, the residents of nearby Ezra Prentice apartments complained immediately about the decline in air quality.
In 2014, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) took a series of air samples, confirming that benzene levels in the air were dangerous.
“In 20 out of 21 air samples taken by the department, benzene levels exceeded the long-term benzene exposure standard,” DeSmog, a fact-based information website regarding global climate, reported.
In response to the findings, however, the department denied that the residents were in any danger.
“The oil fumes from those facilities make people sick,” said Charlene Benton, president of the Ezra Prentice Homes Tenants Association. “We don’t understand how DEC could have concluded that there are no public health issues without having spoken to a single resident of Ezra Prentice about what it’s like to live here and breathe this polluted air.”
Recently, however, the DEC made the decision requiring Global Companies to file an entirely new application to proceed with the transport and processing of crude oil at its Albany terminal, instead of allowing a simple renewal of its previous permit.
“Global Companies must restart its environmental review process, given the significant new information about the benzene levels in Albany’s South End community and the hazards of crude oil transport,” said DEC’s Commissioner Basil Seggos. “DEC will ensure that this process includes a meaningful and thorough opportunity for public engagement.”
Benton is thrilled by the decision.
“We welcome DEC‘s decision to at long last require Global to answer for its impacts on our community,” said Benton. “For too long, we have been forced to breathe polluted air and fear for our safety as Global has turned our neighborhood into a major crude oil hub. We will continue to fight for clean air and a healthy and safe environment for our children and for the entire South End community.”