Joe and Roxanne Pena filed suit on Jan. 11 against 57 companies, 62 defendants in total, in Jefferson County, Texas, District Court over benzene exposure, which they allege led to a life-threatening blood disorder.
Several of the defendants named in the suit are oil and petroleum giants such as: American Oil, Amoco, Atlantic Richfield, Ashland Oil, BP, Chevron Phillips, Chevron USA, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Exxon Mobil, Huntsman, Motiva, Shell Chemical, Texaco, Union Carbide, and Valero.
The plaintiff, Joe Pena, worked at Bayer Material Science as a chemical process helper for 12 years. During the course of his employment, Pena claims he was “needlessly” exposed to toxic benzene. As a result of his exposure, Pena says, he developed aplastic anemia, a blood condition in which the body can no longer produce new blood cells.
The illness causes fatigue, uncontrolled bleeding and a higher risk of infection. In Pena’s case, a bone marrow transplant was required.
The lawsuit includes accusations of gross negligence and “placing unreasonably dangerous products into the stream of commerce.”
Occupational exposure is a high risk factor in the development of benzene-related illnesses and injuries such as Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), lymphomas and Aplastic Anemia.
The most common way that benzene enters the body is through inhalation, but can easily be absorbed by skin contact. When the chemical reaches the bloodstream, it damages bone marrow and blood-forming cells, which directly affects white and red blood cells, as well as platelets. Workers in the petroleum industry are at particular risk for excessive exposure, including those who work in refining and extraction positions as well as those responsible for product shipping and transport.