When citizens attend public hearings to learn about a new dump planned
for their neighborhood, they often encounter a hired consultant with a
college degree in science or engineering who ridicules the idea that
chemicals harm humans. Such a person, wearing an expensive three-piece
suit, will stand at the microphone and look over the top of his
spectacles, putting on his best "expert" look, and say something like,
"We know you little ladies are concerned, and you have a right to be,
but if you could just study the scientific literature, as I have done,
you would realize that there is no evidence of harm to humans from
The question to ask such a person is, "Are you merely uninformed or are
you lying?" for in reality there are numerous scientific studies
showing that exposure to chemicals harms humans. Last week we reviewed
10 such studies. This week we briefly report on nine more.
The dozen chemicals found most often at toxic waste sites are
trichloroethylene (TCE), lead, chromium, toluene, benzene,
tetrachloroethene, trichloroethane, chloroform, arsenic,
polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), cadmium, and zinc. If you look at
a list of the top 200 chemicals found at hazardous waste sites, you
quickly see that these dozen are representative: a few metals, and many
chlorinated compounds made from petroleum. Petroleum products and
chlorine can be combined in a host of interesting ways to make
"chlorinated hydrocarbons," which do not ordinarily occur in nature,
which tend to be toxic, which tend to persist in the environment once
they are created, and which enter food chains and concentrate as they
move from small plants to small animals and then into bigger animals.
In general, the bigger the animal (fish, bird, or mammal), the more
chlorinated hydrocarbons can be found in its flesh.
It seems natural, therefore, to ask ourselves what is known about
health effects from exposure to hydrocarbons (petroleum products) and
especially to chlorinated hydrocarbons.
A study of 8418 white male workers in rubber factories in Akron,
Ohio, revealed an excess of deaths from cancers of the stomach, the
respiratory system, the lymph system (lymphosarcomas), and leukemias
(cancer of the blood-forming cells). In addition, the researchers found
excess deaths from diabetes (a disorder of the immune system),
cerebrovascular disease (stroke), arteriosclerosis (hardening of the
arteries), and suicide.
A study of 1015 male workers at a Canadian oil refinery revealed an
excess of cancers of the brain, bone, skin, kidneys, lymph system, and
blood-forming cells (leukemia), as well as fatal diseases, including
cancer, of the digestive tract.
A study of 2509 active and retired workers at three oil refineries
in Beaumont/Port Arthur, Texas, revealed an excess of brain cancer,
stomach cancer, leukemia, multiple myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow)
A study of 1099 white males exposed to tetrachloroethane in the
manufacture of clothing to protect soldiers against mustard gas in
World War II revealed an overall cancer rate 26% higher than among the
general populace of white males of the same ages.
A study of British pathologists revealed an excess of deaths by
suicide, and brain cancers which the authors of the study attributed to
exposure to solvents, or possibly to an infectious agent.
A study of 501 North Carolina men who died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
showed an increased risk associated with occupation in the rubber,
plastics and synthetic chemicals industries.
A study of 184,641 people listed in the New Jersey cancer registry
between 1979 and 1984 found several associations between specific
cancers and specific occupations. For example, in the printing industry
where people are exposed to ink (carbon black and oil) and to solvents
cleaning the presses, white males show an excess of cancers of the
rectum and large intestine, black females show an excess of breast
cancer, and white females show an excess of lymphomas and of Hodgkin's
disease. White female workers in the petroleum products industry show
an excess of stomach cancers. The chemical industry produces an excess
of mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the chest cavity associated
with asbestos exposure) among white workers of both genders, breast
cancer among black females, prostate cancer among white males,
lymphocytic leukemia among black males, and lymphomas and Hodgkin's
disease among white females. The rubber and plastic products industries
produce an excess of cervical cancers among white females, cancers of
the urinary bladder among black males, and liver cancer among white
A study by the National Cancer Institute in the mid-1970s revealed a
pattern of excess cancers in white males in 139 U.S. counties where the
chemical industry is clustered. Cancer of the urinary bladder showed a
strong association with exposure to dyes, dye intermediates, and
organic pigments, pharmaceutical preparations, perfumes, cosmetics and
other toilet preparations, industrial gases, soaps and detergents,
paints, glue, gelatin, and "chemicals not elsewhere classified." Lung
cancer was associated with the manufacture of industrial gases,
pharmaceutical preparations, soaps and detergents, paints, inorganic
pigments, and synthetic rubber.
Liver cancer was associated with the manufacture of synthetic rubber,
soaps and detergents, cosmetics and other toilet preparations, and
Besides cancers of the bladder, liver and lung, white male residents of
the 139 heavy-chemical counties showed excesses of cancers of the nasal
sinuses, larynx (voice box), skin, and bone. In those counties, white
females showed excesses of cancers of the nasopharynx (where the nasal
passages join the throat), the uterus, the cervix, and skin.
A study of lung cancer in all U.S. counties revealed a pattern of
excessive cancers associated with four manufacturing industries: paper,
chemicals, petroleum, and transportation (in which workers are exposed
to solvents and paints).
Is there valid evidence that exposure to chemicals can harm humans? Is
the Pope Catholic?
 Anthony B. Miller and others, ENVIRONMENTAL EPIDEMIOLOGY; PUBLIC
HEALTH AND HAZARDOUS WASTES (Washington, DC: National Academy of
Sciences, 1991), pgs. 144-146.
 Dragama Andjelkovic and others, "Mortality Experience of a Cohort
of Rubber Workers, 1964-1973," JOURNAL OF OCCUPATIONAL MEDICINE Vol. 18
(June, 1976), pgs. 387-394.
Gilles Theriault and Lise Goulet, "A Mortality Study of Oil Refinery
Workers," JOURNAL OF OCCUPATIONAL MEDICINE Vol. 21 (May, 1979), pgs.
Terry L. Thomas and others, "Mortality Patterns Among Workers in
Three Texas Oil Refineries," JOURNAL OF OCCUPATIONAL MEDICINE Vol. 24
(February, 1982), pgs. 135-[141.]141.
 James E. Norman, Jr., and others, "The Mortality Experience of Army
World War II Chemical Processing Companies," JOURNAL OF OCCUPATIONAL
MEDICINE Vol. 23 (December, 1981), pgs. 818-822.
 J.M. Harrington and D. Oakes, "Mortality Study of British
Pathologists 1974-1980," BRITISH JOURNAL OF INDUSTRIAL MEDICINE Vol. 41
(1984), pgs. 188-191.
 Mary Catherine Schumacher and Elizabeth Delzell, "A Death-
Certificate Case-Control Study of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and Occupation
in Men in North Carolina," AMERICAN JOURNAL OF INDUSTRIAL MEDICINE Vol.
13 (1988), pgs. 317-330.
 Nancy E.L. Hall and Kenneth D. Rosenman, "Cancer by Industry:
Analysis of a Population-Based Cancer Registry With an Emphasis on
Blue-Collar Workers," AMERICAN JOURNAL OF INDUSTRIAL MEDICINE Vol. 19
(1991), pgs. 145-159.
 Robert Hoover and Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., "Cancer Mortality in
U.S. Counties with Chemical Industries," ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH Vol. 9
(1975), pgs. 196-207.
 William J. Blot and Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., "Geographic Patterns
of Lung Cancer: Industrial Correlations," AMERICAN JOURNAL OF
EPIDEMIOLOGY Vol. 103 (1976), pgs. 539-550.
Descriptor terms: cancer; hydrocarbons; nci; oil industry; petroleum;
rubber; plastics; liver cancer; lung cancer; occupational safety and