Colorado health officials discourage blood-testing for benzene

Benzene Colorado health officials discourage blood testing for benzeneColorado health officials want people living near oil and gas refineries to stop having their blood tested for cancer-causing benzene and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs), arguing that the best way to deal with the public health threat is to monitor the environment.

Residents living near drilling sites in western Colorado have raised concerns about the fumes that the refineries emit and how they might affect their health. As a result, they have taken their health into their own hands, having their blood tested at laboratories.

Marion Wells of Rulison said she has her blood tested regularly, and that her VOC levels registered her at the 94th percentile for someone in her age range – twice as much as is considered acceptable.

But officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said at a recent Garfield County Energy Advisory Board meeting that the tests are limited, and none that they are aware of follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols. Furthermore, the tests are often inaccurate.

The tests also don’t show the source of VOC exposure. Many of these compounds can also be found in building materials, tobacco smoke, household cleaners, personal care operations, and vehicle exhaust.

But those words are hardly comforting to residents like Bob Arrington of Battlement Mesa, who live near oil and gas plants. “I think the presence of (VOCs), they don’t belong in the blood and that’s the simple aspect of it, is that those types of things can disrupt your health.”

Benzene is commonly found in many industrial workplaces, but no exposure to it is safe. Short term side effects of benzene exposure include headaches, tremors, confusion, unconsciousness and, at very high levels, death. Long-term exposure has been linked to various types of cancers, including blood cancers like leukemia.

Source: The Daily Sentinel