Benzene exposure from the BP refinery flaring incident alters hematological and hepatic functions among smoking subjects

Int J Occup Med Environ Health. 2017 Oct 6;30(6):849-860. doi: 10.13075/ijomeh.1896.00985. Epub 2017 Sep 27.


Objectives: To evaluate the health effects of benzene exposure among smoking subjects from a prolonged flaring incident that occurred at the British Petroleum (BP) refinery in Texas City, USA.

Material and methods: The study included smoking subjects who had been exposed and unexposed to the benzene release. Using medical charts, clinical data including white blood cell (WBC) counts, platelet counts, hemoglobin, hematocrit, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine, alkaline phosphatase (ALP), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), and alanine aminotransferase (ALT) in the case of smoking subjects exposed to benzene was reviewed and analyzed.

Results: A total of 791 tobacco smoking subjects (benzene-exposed: N = 733, unexposed: N = 58) were included. Benzene-exposed subjects had significantly higher levels of WBC (×103/μl) counts (8±2.1 vs. 7.5±1.6, p = 0.003) and platelet (×103/μl) counts (263.7±69.7 vs. 222.9±44.3, p = 0.000) as compared with the unexposed subjects. The mean hemoglobin, hematocrit, BUN, and creatinine levels did not differ significantly between the benzene-exposed and -unexposed smoking subjects. Serum levels of ALP (IU/l) was significantly elevated in the benzene-exposed subjects compared with the unexposed subjects (84.5±16.9 vs. 73.8±15.9, p = 0.002). Similarly, benzene-exposed subjects had significantly higher levels of AST and ALT as compared with those unexposed subjects.

Conclusions: Despite a smoking history, residents exposed to benzene from the prolonged BP flaring incident experienced significant alterations in hematological and hepatic functions indicating their vulnerability to the risk of developing hepatic or blood related disorders. Int J Occup Med Environ Health 2017;30(6):849-860.

Keywords: benzene poisoning; blood disorders; hematological toxicity; hepatotoxicity; petroleum refinery; tobacco smoking.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity
  • Benzene / poisoning*
  • Chemical Hazard Release
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Hematologic Diseases
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Platelet Count
  • Smokers*
  • Texas


  • Air Pollutants
  • Benzene