A Bedfordshire veterinary firm has been fined after workers were potentially exposed over a four year period to animal chemotherapy drugs that can cause cancer and birth defects. Employees of Davies Veterinary Specialists Limited, including vets, nurses and support staff, could have been exposed to the drugs as they prepared medicines to treat animals with cancer at the firm’s premises in Higham Gobion, Bedfordshire.
Doctors in Britain are “missing opportunities” to spot lung cancer at an early stage, meaning one in three people with the disease dies within 90 days of diagnosis, a study has found. The findings have major implications for occupational health, with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimating around 15 per cent of all lung cancer deaths are related to occupation, or around 5,000 deaths a year. Where cases are diagnosed late or after death, the link to work will be more likely to be overlooked.
Thorax news release. BBC News Online. HSE figures on occupational lung cancer.
Emma L O’Dowd and others. What characteristics of primary care and patients are associated with early death in patients with lung cancer in the UK?, Thorax, Published Online First, 13 October 2014. Risks 676.
The Health and Safety Executive’s board must halt plans to close vital health and safety advisory committees and to replace them with “experts”, Unite has said. One committee dealing with chemicals – WATCH – has already been told it has been disbanded. Unite says its parent body, the Advisory Committee on Toxic Substances (ACTS), also appears to be under threat.
Two-thirds of scientists advising the European Union on the safety assessments of controversial substances have industry links, new research has found. Corporate Europe Observatory’s Pascoe Sabido said “these assessments don’t just affect public health, they also help dictate the financial fortunes of companies involved in producing and using the substances,” adding: “This means that the independence of the scientists providing the expert advice needs to be above and beyond any suspicion of industry influence – which is not the case.”
The authoritative US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) within the Department of Health and Human Sciences has a National Toxicology Program that produces regular reports on carcinogens. The long delayed web-based 13th report contains reviews of substances known, or reasonably anticipated, to cause cancer in humans. NIEHS notes this edition replaces earlier editions (which are not referenced in this bibliography). The publication has proved politically contentious and subject to protracted delays, with the controversy covered in the New York Times. In September 2012 over 70 health scientists from around the US signed a letter to Congress asking it to reject attempts by the chemical industry to defund and delay the Report. The industry lobby has been keen to block inclusion in this US list of cancer chemicals some substances accepted already by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as top rated group 1 human carcinogens.
13th report on carcinogens (RoC). Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, published 2 October 2014. NIEHS Q&A on the 13th ROC. NRDC 5 September 2012 blog on the funding controversy.
A leaked draft of a trans-Atlantic trade deal reveals how the negotiations continue to favour business interests over the protection of health and of the environment, campaign groups have warned. The European Commission’s restricted access text for the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) shows that the European Union’s proposals for a ‘chemicals annex’ shadow those of the chemical industry.
Too few resources are put into exploring environmental causes of breast cancer, including the impact of work, and too little emphasis is placed on primary prevention, a review has concluded. US researchers concluded “the environment is an underutilized pathway to breast cancer prevention. Current research approaches and funding streams related to breast cancer and the environment are unequal to the task at hand.” The four-year California Breast Cancer Prevention Initiatives was undertaken to set a research agenda related to breast cancer, the environment, disparities and prevention. “We identified 20 topics for Concept Proposals reflecting a life-course approach and the complex etiology of breast cancer; considering the environment as chemical, physical and socially constructed exposures that are experienced concurrently: at home, in the community and at work; and addressing how we should be modifying the world around us to promote a less carcinogenic environment.” The 20 Concept Proposals approved by the California Breast Cancer Research Program’s council included assessing occupational exposures to chemicals and breast cancer risks in California and building a public health case for primary prevention of breast cancer.
P Sutton and others. California Breast Cancer Prevention Initiatives: Setting a research agenda for prevention, Reproductive Toxicology, published online 30 September 2014. doi:10.1016/j.reprotox.2014.09.008
A September 2014 paper in the American Journal of History relates how a national US union “declared war” on workplace cancer. The paper notes: “During an address to the American Occupational Health Conference in Detroit, Michigan, on April 22, 1980, United Automobile Workers (UAW) president Douglas A Fraser made a bold announcement. The UAW was declaring “war on workplace cancer” in response to an alarming series of cancer mortality studies conducted among autoworkers by government, company, and union epidemiologists. These studies revealed an “increased proportion of cancer deaths” among “workers in machining operations, foundry workers, and workers in vehicle assembly plants”; the epidemiologists believed those deaths were related to occupational carcinogen exposure.” The paper adds: “Why would the UAW launch such a potentially expensive initiative at a moment when GM, Ford Motor Company, and Chrysler were in their deepest sales slumps since the Great Depression and when nearly half of the union’s members faced indefinite layoffs? Fraser was responding to unprecedented pressure from health and safety activists, including whistleblowers at union locals who had alerted media to the high cancer rates in their plants.” The union strategy involved do-it-yourself “popular epidemiology” supported by a groundbreaking ‘Cancer detective’ guide.
Josiah Rector. Environmental Justice at Work: The UAW, the War on Cancer, and the Right to Equal Protection from Toxic Hazards in Postwar America, Journal of American History, volume 101, number 2, pages 480-502, September 2014. Full text of the article is posted online here. Also see: The Case of the Workplace Killers: A Manual for Cancer Detectives on the Job, UAW, November 1980.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been accused of leaving workers at double jeopardy from cancer-causing, lung scarring silica. A report in the workers’ safety magazine Hazards criticises HSE for resisting a union-backed call for it to halve the current exposure limit for the common workplace dust. It says the government-imposed, hands-off, HSE enforcement policy combined with swingeing resource cuts mean even the current “deadly” standard is not being enforced effectively.
Long-established Health and Safety Executive (HSE) committees that assess the risks from some of the most dangerous substances used at work could soon exclude workers and employers, if the regulator gets its way. One, the WATCH committee on hazardous chemicals, has already been quietly disbanded and another, the Advisory Committee on Toxic Substances, is under threat, internal HSE papers show.