Epidemiologic Techniques: How to Hide a Benzene Cancer Relationship: You can’t regulate if the Companies Lie A case study of Shell’s Benzene Historical Exposure Study (BHES) Based on documents produced in toxic tort discovery The view expressed here are those of the authors; the documents are available for review at: http://egilman.com/browse.php?display=list&dir=benzene_apha /
Science denied 1948 American Petroleum Institute says “Only safe concentration is zero.” 1987 on – Shell continues to publish data follow-ups of faulty BHES study. 1987 through 2006 – liability cases for occupational benzene exposure in courts. Early 1900s Benzene first reported as toxic 1977 Infante et al. published first cohort study assessing benzene/leukemia 1978 OSHA attempts to lower Benzene PEL from 10 ppm to 1 ppm 1978-80 Challenge by allied petroleum industry stays then overturns new PEL 1983 OSHA announces plans for new PEL by 1984, accepting evidence 1983 Shell Oil quickly conducts Benzene Historical Exposure Study (BHES) 1984 Shell Oil presents findings to OSHA 1985 Shell Oil BHES publication #1 1986 Shell Oil BHES publication #2 1987 OSHA collects enough evidence to reinstate 1 ppm PEL
Means more workers die Estimated 30-490 extra deaths from this regulatory delay. 1978-80 Challenge by allied petroleum industry stays overturns lower PEL 1987 OSHA collects enough evidence to reinstate 1 ppm PEL
People will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and
If you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.
- Ludecke “I Knew Hitler”
How to Hide… Step 1 Never admit a fault or wrong Reassure everyone that there’s no evidence
The Lie – AP Wire Press Release 1983 Shell has found no link between benzene and the relatively high incidence of deaths from a certain type of leukemia in Texas & Illinois plants that handle the chemical
Basis of “no causal relationship” was the report that 9 of 23 leukemia cases had “nil” exposure to benzene at the plants.
Plus cases didn’t cluster in highest exposure jobs.
Exposure estimates were based on reconstructed histories of work locations + peer interviews.
From a related study -You can fool some of the people…1983
“ It must be recognized that this study’s negative result will generally be perceived as not highly persuasive” because.. Benzene, being highly volatile, may permeate nearly the entire facility and affect just “susceptible” individuals.”
“ I fear we will be seriously underestimating the exposure ” Omitted from papers
Methods: Never leave room for alternatives The suggestion has been made previously that existing and available extensive leak rate data on petroleum refineries be combined with air pollution dispersion modeling techniques…The notable lack of enthusiasm among your experts concerns me. Rejected
Worked refinery-wide (1943-70) "none determinable" later “nil” XV Worked refinery-wide (13 wks) "none determinable" later “nil” XIV Worked refinery-wide (1941-74) "360-950 ppm days" XI Worked refinery-wide (1947-8 & 1962-3) "very slight" later “nil” VI Worked refinery-wide (1937-54) "none determinable" later “nil” V Worked refinery-wide (intermittent, duration approx 1 yr) "none determinable" later “nil” III Worked refinery-wide (1956-73) "none determinable to very slight" later “nil” I Raw data shows… Reported exposure category Case No.
In a minimum of 4 cases, Shell ignored evidence of benzene use as a cleaning agent.
No reported by interviewees "360-950 ppm days" XI No reported by interviewees "230-480 ppm days" VII No reported by interviewees "25-70 ppm days" IV No very likely in laboratory "1,300-10,400 ppm days" II Was this included in total exposure estimate? Benzene as cleaner? Reported exposure Case No.
Cole P, McCraw D, Joyner R. Brief Communication: Excess Leukemia in a Refinery Population. JOM 1985/3/1;27(3):220-222.
“ This investigation has shown that the subjects did not work in jobs identified as having the highest benzene exposure” “ Five [of the leukemia cases] spent most of their years as maintenance [Laborer] workers, but it is not known if they were ever assigned to benzene units.”
Data: “ ONLY ONE ≠ NONE “ Of potential significance is that the highest exposure jobs are not reflected in the work records of the diagnosed leukemia case. For example only one [ a maintenance worker ] of the Wood River cases worked in the highest exposure jobs related to the Cumene Plant”
How to Hide… Step 3 Populate the peer literature with articles repeating the point Repeat the lie as often as possible