There are two reports of concern in the next edition of the journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. One (Cancer risks in chemical production workers exposed to 2-mercaptobenzothiazole – Online First Occup Environ Med 2009; 10.1136/oem.2008.041400) raises the increasing likelihood that 2-mercaptobenzothiazole, or MBT, could be carcinogenic.
The article reports on a study of workers in a rubber chemicals plant in North Wales. It found that
“Based on national statistics for expected death rates, workers exposed to MBT were twice as likely to die of gut (large intestine) and bladder cancers.
Based on national statistics for expected new cases of cancer, they were also twice as likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer, and four times as likely to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer).”
The other article (Occupational exposures to asthma among nursing professionals Online First Occup Environ Med 2009; 10.1136/oem.2008.042382) is similarly worrying. Moreso because the chemical products mentioned in the report are well-known substances, such as latex gloves and gluteraldehyde, and control measures are very well established.
“…those who regularly cleaned instruments were 67% more likely to report a diagnosis of asthma since starting their job.
And nurses who were regularly exposed to general cleaning products and disinfectants were 72% more likely to say they had been newly diagnosed with asthma, and 57% more likely to report symptoms similar to asthma.
Those nurses working with solvents and glues used in patient care were also 51% more likely to say they had symptoms similar to asthma.”
In both these circumstances occupational health and safety has established control measures that can reduce the harm from these products. What they illustrate is that OHS professionals may apply a consistent standard of expectations that often strengthen as clients remain in one specific industrial demographic but workplaces, decades after hazards are known, have a highly variable level of safety and compliance. This sounds obvious but specialisation can lead to complacency in advisers as much as customers.
It is also useful to note that the carcinogen research was in North Wales and the asthma study in Texas. Both these countries have strong OHS legislation and a good amount of OHS resources but still unacceptable levels of occupational illness. It is this level of resource and attention that has provided the chance for these studies to be undertaken.
“The more we look, the more we find”