A chemical, commonly used in the manufacture of rubber products, may cause cancer in workers regularly exposed to it, according to researchers led by Prof Tom Sorahan from the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
They found higher than expected rates of diagnosis and death from a number of cancers among men working at a rubber plant in north Wales.
The study looked in particular for exposure to a chemical called 2-mercaptobenzothiazole, or MBT, which has been implicated in previous research as a possible carcinogen.
They looked at the death rates of 2,160 employees, who had worked continuously at the plant for at least six months between 1955 and 1984. Of this group, 363 were identified as having been exposed to MBT through work.
When the study was conducted, 222 of the MBT group had died and 136 were traced who were still alive.
Analysis of the data showed that mortality rates from cancers of the large intestine and bladder were significantly higher in workers exposed to MBT than the national average.
Less significant increases were also found for lung cancer and multiple myeloma.
Further statistical analysis of the data showed that workers exposed to MBT were also significantly more likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer or multiple myeloma than the 1,797 workers who had never been exposed to the chemical.
For cancer of the large intestine and multiple myeloma, there were also significant trends: the higher the exposure, the higher the elevated risk.