Updated 30 July 2013

Gas refineries increase blood cancer risk

Blood cancer rates appear to be higher in areas around refineries and plants that release benzene into the air and water.


People who live near gas refineries and manufacturing plants that release the chemical benzene into the environment are at increased risk for the blood cancer non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to a new study.

Researchers analysed data from the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Census Bureau in order to identify regional patterns of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in Georgia between 1999 and 2008. The metropolitan Atlanta region, Augusta and Savannah had the highest incidences of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to the study, which was published in the journal Cancer.

The investigators also found that the incidence of this type of blood cancer was much higher than expected in areas around refineries and plants in metropolitan Atlanta and Savannah that released benzene into the air and water.

"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," Catherine Bulka, of Emory University in Atlanta, said. "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.

Living farther away from these benzene-emitting facilities was advantageous, the study found. The risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma decreased 0.31 percent for every one-mile increase, the researchers said.

These and other findings could prove critical in developing public health policies to reduce rates of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which has been on the rise in the United States over the past few decades, the researchers said.

Although the study found an association between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and living near a facility that releases benzene into the air or water, it did not establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

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