About 4% of cancer cases in the world are caused by occupational exposure to substances that cause cancer (carcinogens). A number of cancer cases have been identified related to chemical compounds, industrial processes, and naturally occurring radiation in the workplace. Improper handling of industrial chemicals can be linked to the development of cancer later in life.
Substances that can cause cancer are called carcinogens. The harmful substances exposed from the industries causing cancer are called industrial carcinogens.
But coming into contact with a carcinogen doesn’t necessarily mean that you can be at risk of cancer. It depends on:
- What kind of chemical you were exposed to
- How often were you exposed to
- How much of the chemical were you exposed to
- How long were you exposed to that chemical
- When were you exposed to
- Your general health
- How were you exposed
A link between cancer and chemicals was first found in the late 1700s. Since that time, many chemicals have been found to be harmful of organs causing cancers.
Understanding Carcinogenic Substances Exposed To Mankind:
Researchers find it to be one of the biggest challenges in finding that which chemicals cause which cancers. People are exposed to the trace amount of chemicals every day that are usually very small to cause health hazards.
Although the chemicals in the indoor environment i.e. household or at work may indicate greater chances of causing cancers.
People who work in particular job areas such as a manufacturing industry are more to developing cancer risk because of the exposures to some of the hazardous chemicals, radiations or other aspects of their work.
What is important to keep in mind here is that there are very small amount of people affected in specific industries in the developed countries. As the hazardous chemicals are banned for some decades now.
How Does Chemical Exposure Influence The Body:
Our human body naturally has a defense mechanism that guards our body against all types of chemical exposure that lead towards a disease or cancer. Whenever something enters a human body, it has to pass through a special process to allow the body to get rid of it. It is called as “metabolism.” Three types of carcinogens exist depending upon the metabolization of that chemical:
- Chemicals that may cause cancer (carcinogens that are direct acting)
- Chemicals that bring no harm to body unless they are changed after metabolizing (pro-carcinogens)
- Chemicals that do not cause cancer on their own but may get active in presence of another chemical and cause cancer (co-carcinogen)
Types Of Work That Carry Risk Of Cancer:
The types of work environment more prone to developing cancer in its workers are mainly:
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing– It includes too much sun exposure and pesticides..
- Painting and Construction– It includes asbestos, silica, diesel engine exhaust, coal products, solvents, wood dust
- Manufacturing and Mining industries: It includes the exposure to fossil fuels and their by-products such as that of mineral oils, coal products, diesel engine, benzene, etc. It also includes asbestos and silica exposure
What are Chemical agents linked to specific cancer types are the following:
|Asbestos||Inhaled asbestos can lodge itself in the body’s organs causing cell division that causes cancer. A cancer case associated with the exposure to asbestos is termed medically mesothelioma (cancer of the thin lining surrounding the lung (pleural membrane). Lung cancer is common among such types. Some studies reveal the influence of asbestos in gastrointestinal and colorectal cancer.|
|Pitch, soot, coal tar, oil||Clinical studies on animals have proven that some soot extracts, coal tars and coal tar pitches, creosotes, and mineral oils are carcinogenic. Coal tars, coal tar extracts and high-temperature coal tars can cause skin papillomas and carcinomas when in contact with skin.|
|Vinyl Chloride||Prolonged exposure to high-level vinyl chloride through inhalation and oral exposure in humans can cause liver damage.|
|Arsenic||Ingestion of arsenic from water and medicine preparation is known to cause skin cancer. There are reports that arsenic can also cause liver, lung, kidney, and bladder cancer. Large populations are greatly affected due to arsenic in water supplies.|
|Benzidine||A known human carcinogen. Exposure to the substance causes bladder cancer. The chemical reaction leads to benzidine binding with protein and nucleic acid, and it is related to extrahepatic target tissues such as the bladder and epithelium.|
|Wool/leather/wood dust||Known as a probable nasal cancer-causing carcinogen. They are also related to respiratory diseases.|
|Aniline dyes||Deaths caused by bladder cancer are mostly workers exposed to aniline dye.
The theory that exposure to aniline is cancerous to the bladder was disproved in some studies.
Chemicals exposed from industries are not only harmful to the workers but also the residents living near that industry. It is still not very clear how Industrial chemicals cause cancer, but evidence has been found indicating the risk for cancer. In the working environment, the workers are highly susceptible to cancer due to influence on metabolic and DNA repair because of high concentration of carcinogens (fumes, soot, etc.).
Employees should be careful while dealing with chemicals in an industry and take every possible step to help themselves stay safe.