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Petroleum Industry Influence on Benzene Science and Regulation

David S. Egilman, MD, MPH1, Amos H. Presler, BA2, and Lerin Kol, AB2. (1) Department of Community Health, Brown University, 8 North Main St., Suite 404, Attleboro, MA 02703, 508-226-5091, degilman2@yahoo.com, (2) Never Again Consulting, 8 North Main St., Suite 404, Attleboro, MA 02703

The petroleum industry has long been aware of benzene’s hazards, yet has both manipulated research on benzene hazards and fought federal regulation designed to protect workers. For more that one hundred years, scientists have suspected that benzene is hazardous to humans. By 1950, human and animal studies confirmed that benzene inhalation could cause leukemia, and was associated with poisoning at less than 10 ppm. When addressing its members privately the American Petroleum Institute (API) stated that there was no safe level of exposure to benzene in 1948. However, the API kept this information from the medical community and even challenged OSHA’s emergency temporary standard (ETS) of 1 ppm in 1977. They successfully delayed the acceptance of a 1 ppm benzene limit for a decade. This delay has been estimated to have caused over 200 excess deaths in workers. This is one example of how corporations can use their power over the discovery and distribution of knowledge to enhance profits and externalize environmental and occupational costs to an unsuspecting public. The petroleum industry’s subterfuge regarding benzene fit a pattern of unethical industry manipulation of scientific and regulatory standards that interferes with the public’s right to full information about workplace and environmental risk.

Learning Objectives:

  • Participants in this session will learn to

    Keywords: Ethics, Petrochemcial Production

    Related Web page: www.egilman.com

    Presenting author's disclosure statement:
    I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

    CLASH! Corporate Behavior and Worker Health & Safety

    The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA