I’ve written before about certain questions you should ask yourself when doing research to support your claim. The second question I suggested you ask is “Where was I stationed?” Many places, such as Camp Lejeune or Vietnam are obvious choices, with those stationed at Camp Lejeune and Vietnam exposed to trichloroethylene and Agent Orange. However, there are some stations right here in the U.S. that may also be responsible for severe illnesses in veterans.
Houston is well known for its oil processing and shipping. Many oil products are shipped in and out of Houston to all over the world. While many petroleum products are toxic, one compound in particular, 1,3 butadiene is particularly toxic. Butadiene is used to create plastics and rubbers, and Houston produces and ships most of the U.S. supply of butadiene. The Houston Petrochemical group alone produces billions of pounds per year. Port Neches produces 900 million pounds of butadiene a year, and an EPA report found that the total emissions alone in Houston are 678 TONS of butadiene a year.
Most at risk in Houston are Coast Guard personnel, particularly Marine Safety or Port Security, who often need to board boats carrying dangerous chemicals to and from the port. A marine safety alert put out by Sector Houston-Galveston in 2011 mentioned that personnel had recently been exposed to a hefty dose of butadiene. This was one particular incident, but it is likely many Coast Guard veterans were routinely exposed to butadiene and other toxic petrochemicals while performing their duties.
Occupational exposure to 1,3 butadiene has been shown to greatly increase the incidence of lymphohematopoietic cancers, leukemia, and lymphosarcoma, and one study showed a nearly six-fold increase in deaths from lymphosarcoma in workers routinely exposed to butadiene.
However, even those who did not board or inspect ships are at risk, for the 678 tons of butadiene that is emitted in the area poses an enormous risk to personnel and their families. One study by the University of Texas and the City of Houston found that children living in areas of Houston with the highest levels of butadiene had a 32% higher incidence of cancer, with a related study finding higher rates of acute lymphocytic leukemia.
Exposure to butadiene can have many other detrimental effects on the body. Studies have shown that 1,3 butadiene is a neurotoxin, and caused irreversible neurological damage in 6% of exposed patients.
Epidemiological studies have shown a possible association between 1,3-butadiene exposure and cardiovascular diseases mainly chronic rheumatic and arteriosclerotic heart diseases, particularly an increase in mortality from these diseases.
If you are a Coast Guard veteran or a veteran of another branch who was stationed in Houston, there is a possibility that your chronic illness is the result of chronic exposure to 1,3 butadiene, or other petrochemical pollutants. I have worked with Coast Guard veterans who have been stationed in Houston, and they have told me about their lymphoma or leukemia, and even tell me that they have friends who were stationed alongside them with similar health issues. It is also important for those who were NOT stationed in Houston, but have been chronically exposed to burning petrochemicals, such as oil well fires in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even burn pits have been shown to contain dangerous levels of butadiene, as well as a host of other toxins and carcinogens.
I hope the information I’ve provided here can help my fellow Coasties in their disability claim, and I wish you all fair winds and following seas!