Claim: ‘Passive benzene exposure’ from living near industrial sites linked with cancer

This is junk science because…

… it is an ecologic study in which only population data were considered (i.e., study contains no data on individual exposures or confounding risk factors). The reported increase in association between residential proximity to a facility and cancer incidence is well within the epidemiologic noise region (i.e., a 0.031% decrease in incidence per mile distance from the facility).

These results certainly do not justify the researcher comment that:

Our findings are limited without similar studies to corroborate our results, but we hope that our research will inform readers of the potential risks of living near facilities that release carcinogens into the air, groundwater, or soil.

The media release is below.

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Higher cancer incidences found in regions near refineries and plants that release benzene

The incidence of a particular type of blood cancer is significantly higher in regions near facilities that release the chemical benzene into the environment. That is the conclusion of a new study published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society. This and other studies like it will be critical to identifying and enacting public health policies to decrease or prevent cancer.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma has been on the rise over the past few decades as industrial production in the United States has expanded. Benzene is one chemical carcinogen linked to blood cancers. Working with Dr. Christopher Flowers and colleagues in the Lymphoma Program at Emory University in Atlanta, Catherine Bulka, MPH, used publicly available data from the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Census Bureau to analyse the geographic patterns of non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases in the state of Georgia between 1999 and 2008. This group examined the associations between new cases of lymphoma and the locations of facilities—such as petroleum refineries and manufacturing plants—that released benzene into the surrounding air or water.

The investigators found that the metro-Atlanta region, Augusta, and Savannah had the highest incidences of non-Hodgkin lymphoma even when controlling for population size as well as for age, sex, and race demographics of the local region. Also, the incidence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma was significantly greater than expected surrounding benzene release sites located in the metro-Atlanta area and surrounding one benzene release site in Savannah. For every mile the average distance to benzene release sites increased, there was a 0.31 percent decrease in the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“Our study is the first to examine the relationship between passive benzene exposure and the incidence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the state population level,” said Bulka. “Our findings are limited without similar studies to corroborate our results, but we hope that our research will inform readers of the potential risks of living near facilities that release carcinogens into the air, groundwater, or soil,” she added.

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6 responses to “Claim: ‘Passive benzene exposure’ from living near industrial sites linked with cancer

  1. You are exposed to more benzene every time that you pump your own gasoline.

  2. The Brits made it illegal to latch the nozzle open when filling in, and the latches have been removed everywhere in the Queendom, forcing people to inhale the stuff while filling in. The nozzles shut off all right, it’s just that the gov’t is being paranoid. I have never been able to comply with such abuse. I jam my wallet under the lever and step aside into fresh air until the nozzle shuts off.

    Not that I am afraid of benzene or benzopyrene or any other public scares, but something in gasoline fumes gives me a headache.

  3. I’m ready to believe that sniffing solvents is no health benefit, that’s for sure.
    Compressed methane has its problems as a transport fuel but methane itself, as I understand, is completely safe to breathe. When people commit suicide using methane, it’s the displacement of oxygen that kills them (or the explosion, which occurs at a lower concentration), not any toxic property of methane. They suffocate.

    • That makes the lie about “methane contamination” of well water especially revolting.

      • Methane “contamination” of course is not toxic since methane is not toxic. There are areas with high natural concentrations of methane in the water and the methane bubbles will ignite sometimes. That could be a potential fire hazard, I suppose, but the amount available in a sink or tub of water would be very limited. I’d expect a lot of the methane to dissipate from the flowing water anyway.
        There’s a cool YouTube video of researchers lighting methane bubbles in Arctic lakes. It’s got some AGW claptrap but it’s fun to watch the researchers tap a bubble and light it for a flare. They have to be quick, though, because the bubbles are used up in a moment.

  4. Excellent point. I would think it likely that many of the workers exposed daily to benzene at such facilities would live in close proximity to the facilities for convenience and that the number would decrease with distance from the facility. Certainly one major factor to take into account. Then within that group you have to consider whether it is the worker or family members affected. It all becomes fairly complex fairly rapidly.

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