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Benzene exposure at Camp Lejeune increases the risk of leukemia in veterans and family members

Every year, nearly 60,000 people receive a leukemia diagnosis nationwide. While the causes of this cancer include having a genetic predisposition to leukemia, exposure to ionizing radiation, and Down syndrome, it can also be the result of exposure to benzene, which was present in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune during the last century.

Benzene exposure can lead to bone marrow cell death and DNA damage at any stage of life, which can subsequently cause leukemia. Exposure to benzene has been known for over a century to damage the bone marrow, causing decreases in the number of circulating blood cells and, ultimately, aplastic anemia, which is a precursor of leukemia.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies benzene as "carcinogenic to humans" based on enough evidence that it causes acute myeloid leukemia. However, benzene exposure can be responsible for other leukemia types, including the following:

  • acute lymphocytic leukemia
  • chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Medical studies found that benzene exposure can increase the risk of cancer, including leukemia, by as much as 40%. Research suggests even low-level benzene exposure can significantly increase the risk of developing leukemia. Benzene is a light yellow or colorless chemical that is liquid at room temperature and highly flammable. It is commonly found in chemical products such as gasoline and solvents, but people can also be exposed to low levels in the air, soil, and water. Between 1953 and 1987, benzene was also lurking in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune, which as many as one million people consumed while stationed there. For this reason, they are now at high risk of coming to struggle with leukemia, among other serious health problems.

Approximately 800,000 gallons of benzene-containing fuel leaked from Camp Lejeune's fuel farm during the last century

Even though benzene was detected during the sampling of the Tarawa Terrace drinking water system in 1985 at less than 2 ppb, which is much lower than the current standard of 5 ppb, low-level exposure to the chemical can also result in leukemia. According to a study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the toxic metabolites generated in the bone marrow or in the liver can cause traumatic bone marrow injury, which can, in turn, cause leukemia.

The suggestion that exposure to benzene could result in leukemia was more difficult to establish than the demonstration that the chemical could induce aplastic anemia. Decreases in blood cells induced by benzene could be seen within a few months after exposure was initiated. Still, there is a lag time of several years between the first benzene exposure and the development of leukemia. Benzene was found to cause chromosome changes in bone marrow cells in animal studies, changes that are also present in human leukemia cells.

According to a study from Carcinogenesis, the probable mechanism by which benzene induces leukemia involves the following:

  • the induction of genetic or chromosomal abnormalities in a hematopoietic stem cell
  • altered differentiation and proliferation of hematopoietic stem cells
  • apoptosis of hematopoietic stem cells and stromal cells
  • stromal cell dysregulation

Benzene metabolism is inherently complex and occurs principally in the liver and also in the lungs, with secondary metabolism occurring in the bone marrow. More research is needed to elucidate the different roles of the various metabolites in benzene toxicity and the pathways that lead to their development. If you spent time at Camp Lejeune while the drinking water was toxic and now suffer from leukemia, either as a Marine or a family member of one, we encourage you to contact our team of professionals, who will gladly help you find out whether you are eligible to file a claim and obtain financial compensation.

File your Camp Lejeune water contamination claim for leukemia with our expert assistance

With over 35 years of experience in evaluating toxic exposure claims, Atraxia Law has the necessary resources to assist you in filing your Camp Lejeune toxic water claim if you came to struggle with leukemia. The only documents necessary to assess your case are your military records or evidence of your stay at the military base and your medical records. If you are entitled to compensation, we will put you in touch with a reliable attorney.