Working as a painter causes cancer

The International Agency for Researcher on Cancer evaluated the occupation of “painter” as a top rated group 1 carcinogen. As well as concluding “occupational exposure as a painter is carcinogenic”, IARC said there was “inadequate” evidence for the carcinogenicity of occupational exposures in paint manufacture. The conclusion on painters was based on three large studies and on national cancer statistics. These indicated that for all cancers painters were about 20 per cent above the average and for lung cancers this increased to a 40 per cent higher rate of developing the disease.

IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, volume 47, Some organic solvents, resin monomers and related compounds, pigments and occupational Exposures in paint manufacture and painting, 1989

A bomb work linked to cancers

A study found cancer excesses in workers involved in atomic bomb research at the UK’s Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE). The study involved 20,000 workers employed since 1950 and found clear radiation-related excess risks of prostate and lung cancers, and some evidence of an increased risk of kidney cancer. Earlier studies had identified raised rates of prostate cancer in UK nuclear power workers employed at the Sellafield plant, where excesses of the blood cancers myeloma and leukaemia were also found. The blood cancer excesses were not identified at the AWRE sites, were radiation exposures were typically less than one-tenth those at power plant.

Valerie Beral and others. Mortality of employees at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, 1951-1982, British Medical Journal, volume 297, number 6651, pages 757-770, 24 September 1988.

Official US alert on diesel exhaust cancer link

The US government’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended in1988 that diesel exhaust fumes should be regarded as potentially carcinogenic. A Current Intelligence Bulletin noted: “On the basis of the results of these studies, NIOSH recommends that whole diesel exhaust be regarded as ‘a potential occupational carcinogen,’ as defined in the Cancer Policy of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (“Identification, Classification, and Regulation of Potential Occupational Carcinogens,” 29 CFR 1990). This recommendation is based on findings of carcinogenic and tumorigenic responses in rats and mice exposed to whole diesel exhaust. Though the excess risk of cancer in diesel-exhaust-exposed workers has not been quantitatively estimated, it is logical to assume that reductions in exposure to diesel exhaust in the workplace would reduce the excess risk.” The bulletin added: “NIOSH recommends that producers of diesel engines disseminate this current information to their customers, and that users of diesel-powered equipment disseminate this current information to their workers. NIOSH also recommends that professional and trade associations and unions inform their members of the new findings of potential carcinogenic hazards of exposure to diesel engine emissions, and that all available preventive efforts (including available engineering controls and work practices) be vigorously implemented to minimize exposure of workers to diesel exhaust.” In 2012, IARC reclassified diesel exhaust fumes as proven cause of cancer in humans. Had NIOSH’s recommendations on preventive action been acted on 24 years earlier, then many of the many hundreds of UK deaths each year attributed to occupational diesel exhaust exposure could have been avoided. [also see: HSE falls 1,000 short on diesel cancer deaths estimate, December 2013].

Carcinogenic effects of exposure to diesel emissions, NIOSH Current Intelligence Bulletin, Number 50, August 1988.

Inaction on US benzene standard caused hundreds of deaths

Nearly 300 workers died in the 11 years a tighter occupational exposure standard was stalled in the US. Researchers looked at the impact of a delay in reducing the US occupational exposure limit for benzene from 10 parts per million (ppm) to 1 ppm. In 1977, the US workplace safety regulator, OSHA, the new tighter exposure standard was issued by OSHA, only to be challenged successfully in the courts by the industry lobby body the American Petroleum Institute (API). The courts ruled that OSHA must produce more evidence to justify the lower exposure ceiling. It was only in 1988 that this limit was finally introduced. OSHA scientists calculated that the delay in implementation of the standard lead to 198 deaths from leukaemia, 77 deaths from multiple myeloma, plus other benzene related deaths that would not have occurred if the safer standard had been in place. The petroleum industry has known for decades that benzene, one of its most important products, is a potent cause of cancer in humans but has spent millions on a cover-up, an evidence database compiled in 2014 revealed. Internal memorandums, emails, letters and meeting minutes obtained by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) in a year-long investigation suggested that America’s oil and chemical titans, coordinated by their trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, spent at least $36 million on research “designed to protect member company interests,” as one 2000 API summary put it.

PF Infante and MV DiStasio. Occupational benzene exposure: Preventable deaths, The Lancet, volume 1, number 8599, pages 1399-1400, 18 June 1988. Also see: Benzene standard case history from Late lessons from early warnings, EEA, 2001.


Unpublished corporate data influences exposure standards

A US analysis found influential chemical exposure limits developed by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) were heavily influenced by the industries producing and using the chemicals. It found that for more than 1 in 6 substances relied heavily on corporate data that had never been independently verified. The authors found unpublished corporate communications were important in developing TLVs [Threshold Limit Values] for 104 substances; for 15 of these, the TLV documentation was based solely on such information. The paper notes: “Efforts to obtain written copies of this unpublished material were mostly unsuccessful. Case studies on the TLV Committee’s handling of lead and seven carcinogens illustrate various aspects of corporate influence and interaction with the committee. Corporate representatives listed officially as “consultants” since 1970 were given primary responsibility for developing TLVs on proprietary chemicals of the companies that employed them (Dow, DuPont).” It concludes “that an ongoing international effort is needed to develop scientifically based guidelines to replace the TLVs in a climate of openness and without manipulation by vested interests.”

BI Castleman and GE Ziem. Corporate influence on Threshold Limit Values, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, volume 13, issue 5, pages 531-559, 1988.

Minerals oils at work linked to cancers

The authors confirm previous evidence that grinding operations with water-based cutting fluids increased the risk for stomach cancer and they provide some evidence that exposures to straight oil-cutting fluids increases the risk for pancreatic cancer. In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) remains under criticism for its failure to act on the cancer risks posed by mineral oils (see Hazards, 2012).

M Silverstein, R Park, M Marmor, N Maizlish, and F Mirer. Mortality among bearing plant workers exposed to metalworking fluids and abrasives, Journal of Occupational Medicine, volume 30, number 9, pages 706-714, 1988.

Solvents linked to lymph cancers

Swedish researchers who compared the solvent exposure of167 men with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma with 140 men of similar age and background how did not, found that 31 per cent of those with the cancer had been regularly exposed to solvents compared to 14 per cent who had not. The authors conclude that because solvent exposure at work “may be relevant to the development of other malignant diseases… our data support the opinion that occupational exposure to organic solvents should be minimised.”

H Olsson and L Brandt. Risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among men occupationally exposed to organic solvents, Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health, volume 14, number 4, pages 246-251, 1988.

Row over workplace mineral fibre risks

UK communications giant British Telecom and NCU (now part of CWU), the union representing its engineers, had a long-running dispute over the risks posed by ‘man made mineral fibres’ (MMMF). The union questioned a company “assurances about the absence of risk,” which led BT to commission two external scientists to assess the evidence, both of which concluded the fibres posed no serious risk. One, Dr Robert Murray, noted strayed from a scientific analysis of the evidence, instead accusing unions of stirring up unjustified concern about fibre risks. He noted: “The subject of fibres has in the past been so charged with emotion that there is little hope of a detached scientific view being taken. This is evident from the literature provided by the other unions, especially the GMBATU [now GMB], which is full of selective quotation, misrepresentation and downright errors and is illuminated by the benefit of hindsight.” He added: “I think that existing evidence is sufficient to demonstrate the problem of MMMF is an industrial relations one rather than a medical one.” Murray was later discredited after it was revealed he had worked as a hired gun for the asbestos industry. The MMMF health concerns at BT led NCU to introduce a ban on work with MMMF in the mid-1980s, which remained in force until January 1987 when the union negotiated safety improvements. Roger Darlington, the NCU’s health and safety officer, said a recent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statement on lung cancer risks linked to asbestos “vindicates the union position.” Within six years, the US safety authorities had fought of industry challenges and had mineral fibres added to the list of cancer-causing substances in the official Annual Report of Carcinogens [see: Industry sparks controversy over glass fibre and cancer, 1994].

BT v NCU: Cancer, Hazards, number 17, February 1988.


Workplace watchdog HSE has no policy on workplace cancer

The UK’s occupational exposure standards for hazardous substances frequently lag way behind those elsewhere. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is particularly remiss on occupational carcinogens, according to Hazards magazine. “The HSE has no overall policy on carcinogens,” it notes. Whereas US and Swedish authorities had called for exposures to carcinogens to be reduced as far as is technically feasible, HSE “will not even indicate if a substance is suspect.”

Substandards: Some HSE recommended limits compared to other standards, Hazards, number 16, December 1987.


Dispute over DMF solvent cancer risks

A major chemical producer challenged a study raising cancer concerns about occupational exposure to the solvent Dimethylformamide (DMF) – but relied on an internal study it had not published in its defence. DMF has been used widely in laboratories, the manufacture of synthetic textiles and artificial leather, as a solvent for dyes and pigments and in other processes including the production of resins, rubbers and polymers. US researchers, prompted by concerns raised by the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union, investigated three cases of testicular cancer that had occurred at a leather tannery. All three workers had been involved in dyeing the leather and had worked in the tannery for several years. The authors concluded the cases could be linked to DMF exposure. It followed an earlier study which linked two cases of testicular cancer to DMF exposure. A response to the union-spurred article from US chemical giant DuPont, a major user of DMF, challenged the findings, saying the company’s own study of exposed workers found no excess of testicular cancer. The DuPont study’s findings were unpublished however. The US government’s workplace health research agency, NIOSH, had previously recommended an investigation into the possible cancer causing properties of DMF.

S Levin and others. Testicular cancer in leather tanners exposed to dimethylformamide, The Lancet, volume 330, number 8568, page 1153, 14 November 1987.

JL Chen and GL Kennedy, Dimethylformamide and testicular cancer (reply), The Lancet, page 55, volume 331, numbers 8575-8576, 9 January 1988.

Also see NIOSH September 1990 summary of the studies.

A continually-updated, annotated bibliography of occupational cancer research produced by Hazards magazine, the Alliance for Cancer Prevention and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).