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benzene
3D model of a benzene molecule. The inner ring of carbon atoms each bond seperately to a hydrogen atom.

Frack workers exposed to carcinogenic benzene

Shane Thielges | Shale Plays Media

A study by the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) has revealed that workers on hydraulic fracturing operations are exposed to dangerous levels of Benzene, a chemical compound that increases their risk of contracting blood cancers like leukemia.

NIOSH worked with industry leaders in Colorado and Wyoming to measure benzene exposure to workers measuring wastewater on six wells. In addition to air samples, researchers analyzed samples of urine from the workers to determine how much of the carcinogen had entered their systems. Benzene levels were found to exceed safe levels in several sites.

Dr. Bernard Goldstein, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, has conducted research on benzene and treated patients who have been exposed to it. He says the potential for contamination poses a serious health risk to well workers:

“These workers are at higher risk for leukemia,” said Goldstein. “The longer, the more frequently they do this, the more likely they are to get leukemia particularly if the levels are high.”

Industry leaders have responded by criticizing the small sample size of the study and saying it does not represent hydraulic fracturing operations as a whole.

Researchers do plan to conduct larger studies, but in the meantime have offered suggestion aimed at limiting benzene exposure, including better training, safety equipment including gloves, respirators and gas monitors, and limiting overall exposure time.

NPR’s State Impact article on the study can be found here: New study shows gas workers could be exposed to dangerous levels of benzene

Related: Devon sues construction company accused of risking H2S exposure

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