Cancer. The word evokes many feelings in people, sadness, and fear top the list. It’s no wonder. On a global scale, nearly 13 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year. Cancer is the leading cause of death in developed countries, including the United States. (1)
This group of diseases is caused by the division of abnormal cells, which causes malignant growths (or tumors) in specific parts of the body. A malignancy can increase in size, spreading the disease throughout the body. This often results in death.
Carcinogens in the Workplace
Many causes play a role in the growth of malignancies. A person’s risk of developing any given cancer is influenced by a combination of factors. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on exposure to cancer-causing agents in the workplace. In most instances, exposure is due to poor indoor air quality (IAQ).
Millions of U.S. workers are exposed to substances that have been tested and deemed carcinogenic. Based on research studying a link between cancer and occupational exposures, the CDC has reported these findings:
It has been estimated that 3-6% of all cancers worldwide are caused by exposure to carcinogens in the workplace. Using cancer incidence numbers in the U.S, this means that in 2012 (the most recent year available), there were between 45,872 and 91,745 new cancer cases that were caused by past exposure in the workplace. Cancers that occur as a result of exposures in the workplace are preventable if exposures to known or suspected carcinogens can be reduced. (1)
Our science and medical communities have cautioned industries about specific substances that cause cancer (such as benzene, styrene, and asbestos, for example). In addition, the government has imposed indoor air quality regulations. Despite this, occupational exposures to carcinogens continue to exist. Researchers at the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified more than one hundred carcinogens of physical, biological, or physical nature. Experts continue to discover new carcinogens, many of them occupationally related. (2)
Education and Outreach
Occupational exposure to cancer-causing material is thought to account for about 4% of all cancers in the US. Though such exposure has decreased greatly over the past several decades (due to stricter government standards), current statistics may reflect historical exposures that are only now being identified.
Though knowledge and strict regulations exist for certain cancer-causing compounds, dusts, and particulates in the workplace, potential exposure can still occur through accidents, regulation violations, or unknown hazards. (3)
Educational outreach and dissemination of information has been consistent, but workers may still be unaware they are at risk. Factory production workers, in addition to manufacturing laborers, are particularly vulnerable. Production workers often repeat the same set of tasks for every product that comes down the assembly line. The repetitive nature of the process allows workers to become highly efficient at their assignments. (4) It also means that if carcinogenic exposure is present, they will be exposed day-after-day, week-after-week to toxic, disease-causing agents.
Many occupations hold a threat of contact with cancer-causing pollution, but some industries top out the list for cancer rates and exposure risks. Consider the following:
Occupations With The Highest Incidence Of Cancers Reported
Paint-Related Manufacturing – Bladder, Kidney, Lung, Lymphoma
Rubber-Related Manufacturing – Bladder, Larynx, Leukemia, Lung, Lymphoma
Plastics-Related Manufacturing – Kidney, Larynx, Liver (3)
In the paint industry, for example, there are thousands of chemical compounds used. Pigments, extenders, binders, additives, and solvents contain known cancer-causing agents such as toluene and xylene. Paint manufacture workers are potentially exposed to the chemicals found in the products they manufacture (5), as are laborers in the manufacture of rubber. Rubber workers handle raw materials in day-to-day operations. Production workers in both groups are exposed to dust and fumes via inhalation and dermal contact. (6) This exposure translates to a significant risk of contracting the occupational illness, even cancer.
Working in these industries needn’t be a cancer threat, however. The EPA recommends eliminating indoor air pollutants through air cleaning source control and ventilation. (7)
At AIR Systems Inc., we serve our customers by identifying areas of potential risk. We supply stellar products that will properly ventilate work areas and remove air-impurities. Contact us today to schedule a free estimate with one of our skilled and experienced clean air specialists.