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A cohort mortality study of chemical laboratory workers at Department of Energy Nuclear Plants.
NIOSH 2008 Jul; :1-4
Who did this study? The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is a federal research agency that works to improve the health and safety of workers. This study was done by NIOSH researchers. What was the purpose of our study? Many laboratory workers are often exposed to toxic chemicals and ionizing radiation. Some studies have found the likelihood of dying of certain cancers is higher among lab workers. In this study, we examined the different causes of death in chemical lab workers who worked at certain Department of Energy (DOE) facilities. What workers did we include? We included 6,157 men and women chemical lab workers in this study. Workers we classified as "chemical lab workers" included: Biochemists; Chemists; Chemical operators; Electricians; Instrument mechanics; Lab analysts; Lab technicians; Metallurgists; Process engineers. These workers worked for at least one day between January 1, 1943 and December 31, 1998, at one of four DOE facilities. These facilities included: East Tennessee Technology Park (formerly K-25); National Security Complex (Y-12); Oak Ridge National Laboratory (X-10); Savannah River Plant; How was the study done? We used work records to identify chemical lab workers. Using death certificates, we then identified workers who had died, and the causes of death. We determined the number of workers that died from each cause of death and compared each to the number of deaths that would be expected in the U.S. general population. We also compared workers to other workers in the study. We did not compare workers to other chemical lab workers outside of these facilities. We were most interested in studying chemical exposures in these workers, but little information existed. Instead, we examined the amount of time each worker was employed as a chemical laboratory worker. We were also interested in radiation exposures to these workers. Work records were available for us to examine (e.g., dosimeter badges, bio-monitoring). What did we find? The overall death rate among these workers was lower than that of the general population. This may be because working people tend to be healthier than the general population. The overall cancer death rate among these workers was also lower than that of the general population. This may also be because working people tend to be healthier than the general population. Deaths from multiple myeloma (a cancer of the blood) were higher among women chemical lab workers at these facilities compared to women in the general population. Compared to the general population, workers were less likely to die of leukemia (a cancer of the blood). We also compared workers to other workers in the study, based on length of employment. In doing so, we found the likelihood of dying of leukemia went up slightly the longer workers were employed at these facilities. Compared to the general population, workers were less likely to die of lung cancer. We also compared workers to other workers in the study, based on length of employment. In doing so, we found the likelihood of dying of lung cancer went up slightly the longer workers were employed at these facilities. Internal exposures to ionizing radiation (radiation that is inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin) did not seem to increase the likelihood of dying of lung cancer in these workers. Please note that our study looked at chemical laboratory workers as a group, and therefore cannot predict the future health of any one person. What were the study limitations? We were not able to look at actual chemical exposures to workers. Though we found multiple myeloma deaths were higher in women chemical lab workers, this was based on a small number of deaths. Smoking information was not available for each worker. This made it difficult to interpret results about smoking-related cancers, especially lung cancer. Workers in the study were mainly Caucasian, making it difficult to examine effects on workers of other ethnic backgrounds. What should you do? Share this information with your doctor if you are concerned about your health or have questions about these illnesses.
Cancer-rates; Carcinogens; Mortality-rates; Mortality-data; Chemical-processing; Exposure-assessment; Exposure-levels; Uranium-compounds; Nuclear-reactors; Nuclear-engineering; Nuclear-hazards; Radioactive-isotopes; Radioactive-contamination; Nuclear-fuels; Laboratory-workers; Lung-cancer; Lung-disorders; Respiratory-irritants; Respiratory-system-disorders; Pulmonary-system-disorders; Pulmonary-disorders; Pulmonary-cancer
7440-07-5; 7440-61-1; 10028-17-8
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Page last reviewed: May 5, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division