Bladder cancer victims at Japanese chemical firm press for prevention

Two of five workers who developed bladder cancer while working at a chemical factory manufacturing dyes and pigments are demanding that the Japanese government recognise their illness as job-related.

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, the pair called on their employer – Tokyo-based Mitsuboshi Chemical – to make urgent improvements in conditions at the plant in Fukui Prefecture. Employees Kenji Takayama and Yasuhiro Tanaka, both 56, have each worked at the plant for nearly 20 years. They say poor working conditions, including a lack of ventilation that routinely makes workers sick, could have caused the cancer.

The five who contracted bladder cancer were involved in mixing or drying aromatic amines, including the potent bladder carcinogen o-toluidine. One of the cancer sufferers has retired, but the four others remain with the company.

The health ministry is now looking into the possible association between the workers’ cancer and the factory environment, while Mitsuboshi Chemical has not commented on a possible link.

Hiroyuki Isobe, executive chair of the Kansai chapter of the Kagaku Ippan Rodo Kumiai Rengo,the union that represents the workers, said the union had just visited the Tokyo head office of Mitsuboshi Chemical.The company avoided comment on whether their contact with the chemicals was responsible for the cancers, Isobe said.

The case parallels that at a US Goodyear plant in Niagara Falls, where over 60 workers exposed to o-toluidine are reported to have developed bladder cancer.

In his award-winning 2008  book, Doubt is their product: How industry’s assault on science threatens your health, occupational health academic Dr David Michaels – now the head of US government safety regulator OSHA – notes the chemical industry led by DuPont conspired to cover up the cancer risks posed by o-toluidine (OT).

Writing in Hazards magazine in 2008, he notes: “Through a series of DuPont letters, reports and papers, the book demonstrates that DuPont managers witnessed this development and growth of this tragic epidemic, yet refused to acknowledge that OT could also cause bladder cancer, shipping the chemical out without proper warnings. As a result, dozens of workers exposed to OT in a plant in Niagara Falls, New York, USA, have developed bladder cancer.

“For many years, DuPont and other manufacturers have disputed the link between OT and human bladder cancer. Earlier this year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer evaluated OT and reached the same conclusion I did, too late for the Niagara Falls workers: OT is a human bladder carcinogen.”

In Tokyo, history could be repeating itself.



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