Worker Health Study Summaries
Research on long-term exposure
1,3 Butadiene Production Workers (1,3 butadiene)
The following will answer questions regarding the NIOSH study of NIOSH Study of the Health Effects of Exposure to 1,3 butadiene
NIOSH conducted a study of workers in West Virginia exposed to 1,3-butadiene.
The purpose of this study was to see if exposure to the chemical 1, 3 butadiene is linked to cancers of blood and the immune system. The study group included 364 men who made 1,3-butadiene at one of three plants in West Virginia.
The first plant made 1,3-butadiene from 1943-1946. The second plant made 1,3-butadiene from 1959-1971. The third plant made 1,3 butadiene from 1941-1965.
How the Study Was Done
This study was done entirely with records. We used personnel records to identify who worked in the butadiene areas.
We used death certificates to find out what workers died from. Then we compared the death rates in workers to the death rates in the general U.S. population. The U.S. rates gave us the number of expected deaths in workers. When the number of deaths is greater than the expected number, then a workplace association is suspected.
We found an increase in risk of dying from a category of lymphoma called lymphosarcoma and reticulosarcoma. Lymphomas are cancers of the lymphatic system (part of the immune system). We expected less than 1 death from these lymphomas based on U.S. rates, but we found 4 deaths. This is over 5 times more deaths than expected.
Three of the 4 deaths were from one plant, and the other was from the olefins unit in another plant.
Studies on other workers and in lab animals tend to support this finding.
This is the most important finding of the study. NIOSH believes that this study adds to the evidence suggesting that 1,3-butadiene can cause cancer in people.
The study found some evidence linking 1,3-butadiene and stomach cancer. We expected to see about 2 deaths, but we found 5. This is about 2 ½ times greater than expected. All 5 workers had worked at the the plant for over 2 years.
No stomach cancer deaths occurred after 1976. Thus, the risk of dying from stomach cancer for workers in this study may now be normal.
We don’t consider this finding to be as strong as that for lymphomas because there isn’t as much supporting evidence from other studies.
Although the number of deaths from lymphomas and stomach cancer was more than we expected, the total number of deaths from cancer was only slightly higher than expected (about 45 1/6 expected, 48 found).
The risk of death from all causes combined was within the normal range expected for working people (about 202 expected, 185 found).
Even though we found an increased risk of disease in people who worked with 1,3 butadiene, this does not mean that you will get sick. We just wanted you to know about the study findings. Just in case, I’ve listed below the main symptoms of lymphoma and stomach cancer, so you can be on the watch for them. I also listed some other steps you can take now to protect your health.
The most common symptom of lymphoma is a painless swelling of lymph nodes (or glands). Flu-like symptoms like fever, tiredness, and weight loss may also occur.
Routine medical tests are not generally recommended for lymphoma. However, NIOSH recommends that workers formerly exposed to 1,3 butadiene ask their doctors to do a complete blood count (CBC) and feel their lymph nodes, liver, and spleen for signs of lymphoma every year.
The early symptoms of stomach cancer are the same as those for common stomach problems (persistent indigestion or discomfort). There are no routine tests for stomach cancer in people who have no symptoms.
A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables may help protect against stomach cancer. Avoid pickled, salt-cured, or smoked foods.
Having any of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have a serious illness. Other less serious conditions also have these symptoms. However, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor if these symptoms last more than two weeks just to be sure.
You, members of your family, or your doctor may have additional questions or would like a copy of our technical report. If so, please call the NIOSH toll-free number: 800-356-4674.
Ward E, Fajen J, Ruder A, et al. (1995). Mortality study of workers in 1,3-butadiene production units identified from a chemical workers cohort. Environmental Health Perspectives 103 (6):598-603. (Study Report).
Rinsky R, Ott G, Ward E, et al. (1988). Study of mortality among chemical workers in West Virginia. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 13:429-438. (Study Report).