Toxic epidemics warning for the developing countries

This IARC report looks at occupational cancer risk developing countries in Africa, Asia, Central America, South America, and Oceania, and warns of the potential for “toxic epidemics”. Industrialization, hazard transfer, and likely burdens of cancers are examined. Specific carcinogens, such as asbestos, benzene, pesticides, metals, and radiation, are identified as well as silica, coal gasification, coke production, benzidine, and vinyl chloride, and such industries as rubber, fur, textiles, and agriculture are examined. Primary prevention and control are flagged. Estimates of global impacts of occupational cancers have since been updated by the World Health Organisation, International Labour Organisation, and others.

N Pearce, E Matos, H Vainio, P Boffetta, and M Kogevinas. 1994. Occupational cancer in developing countries. Scientific Publications 129. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Most chrome plating shops don’t control cancer risks

A 1994 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) survey of 200 chrome plating shops – a very high risk industry for exposure to the carcinogen chromium VI – found only 30 per cent were using control measures.

Cited in: Chemicals calamity, Hazards, number 60, 1977.

Concerns over electromagnetic radiation cancer risks

In November 1992, the death of a Swedish electrician from brain cancer was the first in the country to be officially recorded as a work-related death caused by electromagnetic fields (EMFs). But in the UK, there was no such acceptance. A 1994 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) review noted: “There are numerous reports of alleged ill-health, particularly cancers, from exposure to fields and waves, but little is proven… Knowledge about effects of electromagnetic fields and waves is very poor and much concern is media drive.” NCU, the UK union representing telecom engineers (now part of CWU), said that while the evidence might be lacking, “there is equally no definitive proof that there is no risk.” In May 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified “electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

Making waves, Hazards, number 47, 1994. Also see: IARC news release, 31 May 2011.


Atomic work causes cancer

Greenpeace hailed as an “historic breakthrough” a February 1994 inquest verdict that the cancer contracted by a former  worker at the Aldermaston atomic weapons plant was an industrial disease. Stanley Athawes, 70, worked at the plant for 26 years and was exposed to radiation 27 times. In December 1993, 39-year-old former nuclear submarine fitter Rudi Molinari was awarded £167,000 damages after contracting leukaemia. The Ministry of Defence denied negligence but admitted liability in that it “failed to do all that was reasonably practicable to restrict the extent to which Mr Molinari was exposed to ionising radiation.”

Reported in Hazards, number 46, 1994.

Firefighters and cancer

A 1994 report prepared by the (now defunct) Ontario Industrial Disease Surveillance Panel included a recommendation that brain, lymphatic and haematopoietic cancers (such as leukaemia) should be added to the list of conditions for which workers’ compensation payments were made. The recommendation said the Workers’ Compensation Board must presume a firefighter’s cancer “is work related unless it is proved to be unrelated.” The report was prompted by an approach from the firefighters’ union. Presumptive laws on firefighter cancers like this exist in several jurisdications, notably in the US, Canada and Australia. In 2004, the North American firefighters’ union IAFF published a guide to presumptive laws in Canada.

Report to the Worker’ Compensation Board on Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer Among Firefighters, IDSP, 1994.

Manchester printers had high lung cancer rates

Print union members who had worked in the newspaper industry between 1949 and 1963 were investigated for possible risks of lung cancer related to their work. The researchers found that those who had operated newspaper rotary letterpress machines had an increased risk of lung cancer. Machine assistants were 1.8 times more likely to develop lung cancer than members of the general population. Lung cancer incidence in print managers was 1.4 times the expected level. The increases were attributed to ink mist. The authors say their research “suggests that there may be a real effect of exposure to letterpress ink mists. This is biologically plausible, as benzo[a]pyrene, a known human carcinogen, has been found in appreciable concentrations in the atmosphere of rotary letterpress machine rooms.” Mineral oils, linked to cancer, were also present in print rooms.

DA Leon and others. Lung cancer among newspaper printers exposed to ink mist – a study of trade union members in Manchester, England, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 51, number 2, pages 87-94, 1994.

Industry sparks controversy over glass fibre and cancer

The North American Insulation Manufacturers’ Association (NAIMA) suffered a major setback in 1994, when its attempt to block inclusion of man-made mineral fibres (MMMF) in the US National Toxicology Program’s Annual Report of Carcinogens (ARC) failed. NAIMA has submitted a petition to the Secretary of Human Services opposing the move. In response, scientists with the federation workplace safety regulator OSHA reviewed the evidence. They were critical of evidence used in the company’s defence, particularly industry sponsored animal studies by Thomas Hesterberg which concluded glass fibres do not cause cancer. The OSHA scientists highlighted several major deficiencies in the Hesterberg animal experiments, and also contested the negative conclusions reached. Following its review of both animal and human data, they concluded that glass fibres should be classified as carcinogenic, noting “that on a fiber-per-fiber basis, glass fibers may be as potent or even more potent than asbestos.” The NAIMA petition was denied and glass fibre was listed in the ARC as being “reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans.” Thomas Hesterberg later turned his attention to the asbestos industry and gave evidence against an asbestos ban before the Supreme Court in Brazil in 2012 and was a contributor at an asbestos industry promotional conference in India in 2013. In November 2013, he was named in a list of “scientists who help asbestos industry sell asbestos.”

PE Infante and others. Fibrous glass and cancer, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, volume 26, pages 559-584, 1994.
TW Hesterberg and others. Chronic inhalation study of size-separated glass fibers in Fischer 344 rats, Fundamental and Applied Toxicology, volume 20, pages 464-476, 1993.

Creosote linked to cancer

A study of wood impregnators in Norway and Sweden found elevated rates of the lip and a skin cancer in creosote exposed workers. The researchers looked at cancer incidence in a group of 922 men who had worked in the industry at some time in the period from 1950 to 1975, using national cancer registries.

S Karlehagen and others. Cancer incidence among creosote exposed workers, Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health, volume 19, pages 200-207, 1993.

IIAC reject aluminium smelting lung cancer risk, moves on bladder cancer

After considering the bladder and lung cancer risk posed by aluminium smelting the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council recommended that only bladder cancer in relation to the Soderberg process should be added to the prescribed industrial disease list. The changed took effect in April 1993.

Bladder and lung cancer in relation to work in aluminium smelting. Cm 2104, IIAC, December 1992.

Asbestos cancers have been around a long time

This commentary addresses questions about asbestos-related cancer recognition. According to Andrew Watterson (2014): “It has much wider importance in terms of

the interrelationship between scientific knowledge and the different disciples relevant to occupational cancer research. Challenges the view that asbestos cancers were recognized epidemiologically only in the 1960s and not the 1940s. Notes pathology studies between the 1930s and the 1950s often carried greater weight than epidemiological ones.”

David Egilman. Public health and epistemology, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, volume 22.3, pages 457-459, 1992.

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).