Most Dangerous Jobs Chemical Workers

About one of the most dangerous or life-threatening jobs chemical workers, information and dangers of the profession.


Chemical Workers: Over 3,000 new chemicals are introduced into industry every year, but their effects on workers are rarely tested beforehand. Threshold limit values (standards set for allowable working exposures) exist for less than 500 substances. It is therefore not surprising that the history of the chemical industry is littered with casualties. Noteworthy culprits have included: carbon disulfide (causes depression, parkinsonism); acrylamide (nervous disturbances, impaired balance, slurred speech); carbon tetrachloride (cirrhosis of the liver, kidney failure); benzene (leukemia, chromosome abnormalities); beta-naphthylamine and benzidine (cancer of the bladder among workers in the dye and rubber industries). More recently: vinyl-chloride (liver cancer); estrogens (development of breasts in men in factories producing the "Pill"); and DBCP (a pesticide which, in 1977, was found to have induced complete sterility in many male plant workers).

The Unborn Worker: The thalidomide tragedy brought home the awful truth that chemicals have the potential to mutilate the human fetus. In this latter part of the 20th century, many working women are exposed to agents likely to compromise the development of a normal embryo. Studies have shown an increased rate of miscarriage and fetal abnormality among operating-room nurses and female anesthetists exposed to anesthetic gases. Similarly, X-ray technicians and women who work in chemical laboratories with active agents and live viruses also appear to face an increased risk. It has been known for decades that women exposed to lead in early pregnancy suffer increased rates of spontaneous abortion.

Following mercury contamination of fish in Minamata Bay, Japan, as a result of industrial pollution, and after subsequent incidents of mass mercury poisonings in Iraq, many mothers were delivered of defective offspring known as "the Minamata Babies." In 1968 a widely used brand of Japanese cooking oil was contaminated by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), via eroded pipes, during the manufacturing process. Of the expectant mothers who used the oil, several had stillborn babies, and nearly all the surviving babies exhibited the classic features of PCB poisoning. A follow-up of these youngsters has shown them to be both physically and mentally backward. We must be on our guard. A casual attitude toward the effects of industrial technology on our health is at best foolhardy; to perpetuate such complacency is a peril to future generations and as such is unforgivable.

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