Industrial Pollution Not Just Dirty

Non Hodgkin lymphoma incidence is higher in areas close to plants that release benzene

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Benzene is a chemical that’s used in the making of all sorts of products, ranging from plastics to detergents. It’s also a chemical that’s been linked to blood cancers.

Living close to factories that release benzene may increase a person’s risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), according to a new study.

NHL is a cancer of the lymph system, a critical part of the body’s immune system.

"Get plenty of fresh air."

For this study, researchers led by Catherine Bulka, MPH, of the Lymphoma Program at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, analyzed the geographic patterns of NHL cases diagnosed in Georgia between 1999 and 2008.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Census Bureau data were used to examine residential proximity to benzene release sites and the risk of NHL.

Since the 1970s, NHL cases have been increasing by 3 to 4 percent a year. Nearly 70,000 Americans will be diagnosed with NHL this year, and some 19,000 will lose their lives to it.

A number of human studies have linked occupational benzene exposure to NHL, but some controversy remains.

A total of 12,716 cases were identified during the 10-year study period, with 11,355 cases geographically linked to census data.

The researchers examined the association between new cases of lymphoma and locations of industrial sites, including petroleum refineries and manufacturing plants, that released benzene into the air or water.

After taking into account population size, age, sex and race, the researchers found that metro Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah had the highest number of NHL cases.

The researchers also found that for every mile away from a benzene site, the risk of NHL decreased by 0.31 percent.

“Our study contributes to a growing body of literature that has identified the association between NHL and organic solvents like benzene,” the authors wrote.

Previous studies have found increased risks of NHL among people living close to copper smelting factories, paper industries, sulfite pulp mills, solid waste incinerators, petroleum refineries and toxic industrial waste sites.

Dr. Bulka said in a press statement, "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."

Findings from this research were published online July 29 in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

This work was supported in part the Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Scientist Award and Cancer Research Award, American Society of Hematology Amos Medical Faculty Development Award and National Cancer Institute.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 26, 2013
Last Updated:
July 29, 2013