A refinery in El Paso, Texas, was forced to shut down one of its cooling towers after it released the poisonous substance benzene into the air, according to a filing with federal pollution regulators. Reuters reported that Western Refinery closed cooling tower No.9 and the area was blocked off after an unknown amount of benzene was released. The National Response center is still investigating and the cause is still not known. Western Refinery produces 128,000 barrels per day along with a wide range of fuels, lubricants, and automotive chemicals sold in Arizona, southern California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, western Texas, Utah, Virginia, and northern Chihuahua, Mexico.
Unfortunately, the refinery is surrounded by residential and commercial businesses that could possibly be affected by the release of this toxic substance. It is not known if measures are being taken to warn the public that work or live within the area. This is the second major incident that Western Refinery has been involved in within the last weeks including one in which a worker was killed on the job. It appears more safety measures are in order for this refinery.
People who breathe in high levels of benzene may begin to develop the following signs and symptoms within minutes to several hours of exposure to this chemical. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that you look for these signals if you believe you may have been exposed:
Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Benzene causes cells not to work correctly and may damage the immune system by changing blood levels of a persons antibodies and along with the loss of white blood cells.
The seriousness of poisoning caused by benzene depends on the amount, route, and length of time of exposure, as well as the age and preexisting medical condition of the exposed person.
If you have been exposed to benzene, you should remove your clothing, rapidly wash your entire body with soap and water, and get medical care as quickly as possible.
Benzene poisoning is usually treated in a hospital setting although, but unfortunately no specific antidote exists for benzene poisoning. The most important thing is for victims to seek medical treatment as soon as possible since death can occur at higher levels.
People can contact one of the following if they feel they have been affected:
Regional poison control center: 1-800-222-1222
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Public Response Hotline (CDC)