Air tests in a Houston neighborhood have detected extremely high levels of benzene following the destruction of Hurricane Harvey.
The neighborhood is located close to a Valero Energy oil refinery, which is concerning enough. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, nearby residents are now alarmed by the plumes of carcinogens released into the air, according to an article by the New York Times.
The Houston Health Department took air samples from the Manchester district of the city and ran tests to check the levels of toxic fumes. The results showed the air contained benzene at levels of 324 parts per billion (ppb).
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances, exposure to benzene at “very high levels” of 10,000-20,000 parts per million (ppm) for 10 minutes or less can result in death. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that all workers wear special breathing equipment for anyone exposed to more than .1 ppm of benzene for an 8-hour period.
Benzene is a known carcinogen linked to life-threatening diseases such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), lymphomas and aplastic anemia.
The pollution billowing through the Manchester neighborhood isn’t just from the refinery, however. The neighborhood is surrounded by two freeways and a shipping lane, which creates health hazards from every direction. In one study, researchers discovered that the area had a higher number of childhood leukemia cases due to the elevated levels of chemicals in the air.
Senior health scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, Elena Craft, said close monitoring of the area was vitally important, especially in light of the many variables and unpredictable circumstances.
“For the short term, the risks are dizziness, nausea, lightheadedness,” Craft said. “But this could also play into your long-term cancer risks. We’re very concerned about people’s long-term health in the area.”