The new law followed an incident in which approximately 800,000 pounds of underground contamination were found at a 7-Eleven store. The leak, which included benzene at levels 1400 times those considered acceptable, seeped into the groundwater exposing people living in the area to the carcinogen. Residents living nearby did not find out about the contamination until they became sick and were forced to move. Some homeowners declared bankruptcy after leaving their neighborhood because they were unable to sell their homes.
Residents who were affected by the spill have filed a lawsuit against 7-Eleven. The lawsuit, which will go to court later this year, claims that 7-Eleven knew about previous leaks at the station but continued using a faulty tank and failed to prevent benzene from entering community groundwater.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, benzene is a colorless or light yellow chemical that has a sweet odor. It is highly flammable and can sink into low-lying areas because it is heavier than air; however, benzene also floats on top of water. Symptoms of benzene inhalation include the following, which may appear within minutes to hours of exposure:
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Death (at high levels of exposure)
Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Long-term exposure to benzene has serious effects on a person's blood. It can cause the bone marrow to produce fewer red blood cells, which can lead to anemia. Benzene is also a carcinogen -- exposure can lead to cancer. People who work with materials containing benzene, especially over the long-term, are at an increased risk of developing benzene-related cancers.
The number of lawsuits against companies that exposed their employees to benzene is constantly growing. They are being filed by both people who worked with benzene and the families of people who died from cancers after benzene exposure.