Rubber Chemical Linked to Cancer

A chemical routinely used in the manufacture of rubber products is connected to various cancers, researchers have found.  The chemical, called <"">2-mercaptobenzothiazole (MBT), has been linked to cancers in workers exposed to its fumes during production, said British researchers, reported Reuters.

According to researchers, workers reviewed at a rubber chemicals plant in Wales experienced a two-fold chance of developing colon cancer and a four-fold chance of developing bone marrow cancer over those not connected with the plant, said Reuters.  BBC News said that staff at the Flexsys plant were studied and those exposed to MBT suffered a two-fold likelihood of dying from cancers of the large intestine and bladder.

The Welsh factory is located in Wrexham, is known there as Ruabon Works, is one of the oldest industrial sites in that location, and has been making chemicals for the rubber industry for about seven decades, said BBC News, which noted that Flexsys Rubber Chemicals, Ltd, stepped in 1995, concentrating on very specialized chemicals for the global rubber trade.  Flexsys confirmed, said BBC News that, “MBT was produced at the Ruabon Plant from the 1930s until 2001 and it continues to be manufactured for Flexsys at one other location.”

Researcher Tom Sorahan of the University of Birmingham, and colleagues, said in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine that, “Perhaps MBT should be handled with increased care as it may be a human carcinogen.”  The problem seems to be greatest to those exposed to fumes from the chemical used to make rubber and seems to increase with greater exposure.

Earlier studies linked MBT to tumors in mice; however, the newest results are the first time MBT has been linked to human cancers, Sorahan told Reuters.  The team reviewed fatalities for 363 workers who worked at the plant from 1955 and 1984 for no less than six months, and received a cancer diagnosis between 1971 and 2005, said Reuters.

Meanwhile, BBC spoke to former factory employee, 76-year-old Tom Owen, who worked at the plant for 40 years and was frequently exposed to MBT.  “I first started there in 1950. I worked on nearly every plant so there’s nothing I’ve missed there.  In the early days, it was hard, with the chemicals, because you name the chemical, we were exposed to it.”  Owen retired over 10 years ago due to ill health, later developing bowel cancer.  “Some of my colleagues have had it too….  I had operations for it but things didn’t work out as they should do.  I had to have a colostomy bag, but it wasn’t working right.  So they had to take the whole intestine out, and then my lungs collapsed.  That went on for months—and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” he added.

Sorahan noted that more research is needed, telling Reuters that the findings, “… can only be confirmed one way or the other by doing large studies.”  BBC said the researchers suggested additional research in other populations exposed to MBT to determine if “similar patterns emerge.”  Flexsys said, reported BBC News, it was looking at the study to determine if additional review is called for.

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