BTEX: Why you should care about the chemical components of gasoline

Benzene, Ethylbenzene, Toluene, and Xylene, referred to collectively as BTEX, are chemical components of gasoline.

You're probably thinking, "Ok, great, Roger. But why are you giving me a chemistry lesson about the makeup of what goes in my car?"

The chemicals BTEX are carcinogenic, meaning that prolonged exposure causes cancer. There has been significant research and debate as to what level of exposure to these chemicals indicates a significant health risk. These chemicals are present in the groundwater in almost every industrial area in the world. They are under your gas stations and your factories, they melt your nail polish and remove your paint; you can smell them in your sharpie markers, and sometimes they are in your water.

Apparently, ink, smelling solvents, or drinking water out of plastic bottles don't constitute enough exposure to cause cancer in humans (but that's another story). However, working in a paint thinner factory and breathing the fumes all day will almost certainly land you squarely in the hospital with a laundry list of ailments. Underneath and around the factory are a lot of storage tanks as well. These tanks store petroleum or paint thinner from the factory-- or any other chemical from a long list that will poison you if you drink it. Unfortunately, they leak.  

‘Down here in Kentucky, everyone works at the plant and everyone lives in town. It’s a good thing that they put the houses o’er there on the west side of town because the smell is something awful when the storm winds come from the northeast. I work in the bulk fuel farm so I’m used to it, but the kids aren’t. You see the problem with the bulk fuel farm is that the tanks are old. The concrete is all cracked on the bottom so the benzene leaks out underneath. So whatcha gotta do is fill the tanks with water every day so we don’t lose product. The benzene floats on the water so then all we lose out the bottom is the water. It’s a win-win.’ 
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Unfortunately, the water is then impacted with benzene and spreads to the aquifer underneath. Leaks like this are common and are measured in feet of product lost per month. In the great plains, the water is deep. Everyone in town has to drill into it to drink and it’s only a matter of time before the benzene reaches it. After the first failed drinking water test, there will likely be a few lawyers involved misdirecting questions and absolving responsible parties. The chemical plant didn’t make enough money to fix the tanks in the first place so they’ll never be able to cover the lawsuit. They’ll just declare bankruptcy and leave the wasteland in place to become a Superfund site (which means the taxpayer has to pay for it).

I have an idea! Let’s just eradicate the E.P.A. entirely and ignore things like this forever because someone else will make sure this never happens again... Just kidding.