Posted on August 14th, 2020
For years, benzene has been used as an antiknock agent additive in gasoline - the dominant petroleum-based fuel. In addition, most military operations depend on petroleum fuels. However, benzene is a known carcinogen that can cause several types of leukemia, and other blood disorders, such as aplastic anemia.
Toxic substances on military installations can affect a service member's health and may result in long-term consequences. These chemicals - volatile organic compounds, mainly trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride, and benzene - have led to various illnesses, including aplastic anemia and other blood-related complications.
Experts say that when considering multiple modalities of exposure, exposure to contaminants could be much greater in a shorter time period than 30 days of drinking the water. Failure to comply with service periods shorter than 30 days ignores the likelihood of regular and repeated exposure to contaminants through multiple pathways.
The National Research Council of the United States explored three major routes of exposure to contaminants: inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact and noted that doses of contaminants from showering could provide dermal and inhalation exposures that are equivalent to ingesting two liters of water, as the temperature of water impact the volatility of the contaminants.
Aplastic anemia - a rare, potentially fatal disease - is a form of bone marrow failure. Bone marrow failure occurs when the bone marrow - the soft, spongelike tissue inside the bones - fails to produce enough healthy blood cells to keep up with the body's needs. The strong exposure-response relationship between benzene and bone marrow suppression has been recognized since 1897.
Aplastic anemia may occur suddenly or may develop over time. Some of the symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, prolonged or unexplainable bleeding, frequent or severe infections, easy bruising, and skin rashes.
Your doctor will diagnose aplastic anemia based on your medical and family histories, a physical exam, and results from tests and procedures. After diagnosis, treatment for aplastic anemia may include blood transfusion, suppression of the immune system through multiple daily medications, or bone marrow transplant.
Frequent exposure to toxins such as in gas, paint, coal emissions, and industrial solvents has been known to increase one's risk of developing aplastic anemia. For example, the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry found that "benzene-induced aplastic anemia is caused by chronic exposure at relatively high doses."
Benzene - a natural part of crude oil and gasoline - was found in a well near the Hadnot Point fuel farm at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, at levels of 380 parts per billion. Long-term exposure, such as what happened at Camp Lejeune, can lead to various hematological manifestations, including aplastic anemia. According to a summary of the tests, benzene concentration far exceeded the safety limit set by federal regulators, which was at 5 parts per billion. Spills and leakage from underground fuel storage tanks have been considered the main source of benzene exposure.