Cancer expert didn’t tell workers of chrome cancer risk

A lung cancer expert who was a regular visitor to a UK chromium plant and who was heavily involved in official expert reviews of the high lung cancer risk posed by chromium compounds, neglected to point out this association to the workers in the factory. Dr P Lesley Bidstrup was not only a member of the government’s Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC), she had regular contact with workers at the Eaglescliffe plant of British Chrome and Chemicals. But the 500 workers were unaware she had published extensively on the deadly lung cancer risk in the industry. Dr Bidstrup has spent more than 30 years monitoring the health of workers in the UK chrome industry and had reported a lung cancer incidence 3.6 times the norm. A report she co-authored in 1956 concluded lung cancer was an occupational disease in the chrome industry. The plant was the recipient of dozens of Health and Safety Executive (HSE) improvement notices in the 1970s. Modifications were made, with Dr Bidstrup writing in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine in the late 1970s that these resulted in “an appreciable reduction of the excess risk from lung cancer.”  It was only in the 1980s that unions at the plant became aware of this cancer risk, organising training courses and pressing for improvements. Hazards magazine noted: “Publishing articles in prestigious scientific journals may be very good for the authors, but results of research need to be in the hands of workers for real improvements to be made.”

Chrome: Dazzling but deadly, Hazards, number 12, January 1987.

PL Bidstrup and RAM Case. Carcinoma of the lung in workmen in the bichromates-producing industry in Great Britain, British Journal of Industrial Medicine, volume 13, pages 260-264, 1956.

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