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Do chemists have an abonormaly high rate of cancer?

  1. Aug 10, 2007 #1
    I have always wondered about this? Does anyone know if chemists have an abnormally high rate of cancer later in life compared to everyone else? Has there ever been a study done of this? Seeing how much crap I've breathed in like hexanes, DCM, hydrogen sulfide, chlorine, and all sorts of other extremely nasty crap, I really worry about this. I know people used to wash their hands with stuff like benzene back in the day and still lived to tell about it late in life. But I am still curious about what the longer term health outlook is for chemists.
     
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  3. Aug 11, 2007 #2

    ShawnD

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    It's probably not higher than any other job. People in the oil and gas industry are exposed to more hydrogen sulfide than any chemist. Gas station attendants breathe more benzene than chemists. Painters are exposed to more DCM than chemists. Chlorine is abundant in most detergents, so I would assume pool cleaners get exposed to a lot of that. Chemists are exposed to quite a bit of methanol and acetone, but neither of those cause cancer.

    I wouldn't worry about it.
     
  4. Aug 11, 2007 #3
    Yes, but I am also thinking of very nasty substances that are used all the time too like MOM chloride, a lot of chloroformates, thionyl chloride, organometallic compounds, sodium cyanide etc. too.


    Until the day I die, I can exactly point out the smell of thionyl chloride because I've smelt it so much.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2007
  5. Aug 11, 2007 #4

    ShawnD

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    Sounds like the fume hood is broken. Check the pressure gauges to see if the hood is pulling any air, and try to keep the sash about 3/4 of the way down at all times. You should be able to place soiled diapers in the hood and not smell a thing.
     
  6. Aug 11, 2007 #5

    mgb_phys

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    There was a study in the 80s which questioned why all these new hazchem/hazmat regulations were needed when chemists had been washing their hands in benzene every day for years. It seemed that chemists had longer than average life expectancies over the 20th century, but were comparable to similair middle class professions like lawyers so most of this is probably due to quality of food and healthcare.
    Certainly there was no indiciation of high rates of chemical linked cause of death.
    A study at the same time found that astronomers were the most at risk scientists, this seemed to be a combination of small numbers, working alone at altitude around large machinery.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2007
  7. Aug 13, 2007 #6

    chemisttree

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    I don't think that chemists or chemical workers have much to worry about. This quote is from a Canadian Dow chemical worker study...

    http://occmed.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/55/8/618

    But another study had this to say...

    http://www.americanchemistry.com/s_acc/docs/LRIAbstracts/LRIAbstract_8.pdf

    I have personally known two chemists who died from leukemia (ALL), a lymphatic cancer, in my lab alone... one was in his early forties.
     
  8. Aug 18, 2007 #7
    most chemists have the (probably true) impression that their occupation is more hazardous than most..

    say you have Avogadro's number of toxic molecules:

    602214000000000000000000 toxic molecules

    say you clean up 99.99 % of the spill, there are now only

    60221400000000000000 toxic molecules

    does that make you feel better? :) additionally, toxicity can be effective in ng quantities
     
  9. Aug 20, 2007 #8
    Also, you have to consider the effects of hormesis and whether that is a valid phenomena or statistical anomolies. I don't know about chemical workers, but radiation workers don't have higher incidences of cancer than non-radiation workers that are statistically meaningful. My guess would be the same applies to chemical workers. Also, you have to consider the incredible statistic that about 3% of the population has cancer at any given time, with new annual incidences of about 0.5% of the population (these are 2007 estimates).
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2007
  10. Mar 23, 2011 #9
    Yes they do I know that a lot of companies until just last year didn't have proper ventilation and poor hoods. The older staff all had some form of cancer or tumors also many were impotent. The companies pay large amounts of compensation and provide great benefits so basically many of the die hard older workers stay. Just recently got a swollen liver and I never drink ever!
     
  11. Mar 23, 2011 #10

    Borek

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    Please provide reliable sources of this information (when it comes to your liver, we will believe your word).
     
  12. Mar 23, 2011 #11
    Sulfuric acid, lead and lead compounds, Hydrochloric acid, Hydrazine, and Nitric acid. All these reach a school which is around the place I work for. Medical reports are personal and I would never ask co-workers for their reports to satisfy you curiosity. My liver is swollen and I am going thru detox my eyes have also gotten worse. The place I work for says everything causes cancer these days. Mainly if your going to be a chemist just know that your exposed to many chemicals metals and its inevitable you will find a surprise in an exam one year.
     
  13. Mar 24, 2011 #12

    Borek

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    I am not asking about personal details, I am asking about reliable (and published) statistics that will show your claims, like

    are true. As far as I know being chemist is not more dangerous than being a mailman.
     
  14. Mar 24, 2011 #13

    DrDu

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    That's tragic but ALL is a cancer which has its maximum incidence rate at the age from 2-4 years, that is among children and young people. So dying from it in the early forties is not really premature in that case. However, it is known that ALL can be induced by radiation and probably also by chemicals. Would be interesting to know with what they have worked.
     
  15. Mar 24, 2011 #14
    AFAIK, chemists are not at any particular risk given the precautions taken. Compare that with potters, who are "the first to die", but most wouldn't expect that until they gave it a bit of thought.

    Minor exposure to hazardous compounds isn't great, but chronic exposure to hazardous compounds or particulate is shown to be quite lethal. If you want to find the jobs with the shortest life exptancy, look for ones where you breath in the most actual crud (particulate) which leads to inflammatory disorder.

    edit: I'd add, you can smell say... Formalin from across the state, but that doesn't mean you're inhaling much of it. The human nose is pretty decent, and it doesn't take much to activate a response... it doesn't mean you're taking deep breaths of poison.

    Besides, chemists know what they're dealing with, and are risk aware/averse... look for ignorance of a present risk for a deadly profession, such as many of the trades and aesbetos.
     
  16. Mar 24, 2011 #15

    chemisttree

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    In one case it could have been a long career working with BTEX compounds. The younger co-worker worked a lot with arsine compounds and just about everything else nasty. He taught me Schlenk line techniques.

    One conversation we had still haunts me. He was telling me of the advantages of working with inorganic compounds vs organic. He said something like, "Inorganic reactive compounds have such short half lives in your body because they are so reactive, they are safer than working with organic stuff that can stay in your body for a long time." I stood there stunned, listening to his utter fiction. I couldn't believe he thought that was true or that he thought me ignorant enough to believe him. I was at once appalled and insulted. Almost everyting we handled could be accurately described as an intercalating compound when decomposed into it's individual species. He worked with phosphine-substituted arsine compounds in his thesis work, for crying out loud! Most of the time our solvent systems were ethers of some type. We used THF quite often which is a suspected carcinogen and teratogen. Other ethers are known to cause testicular atrophy in animals. (I'm so glad I'm not one of them!) I was also the Division's Safety Officer and Point of Contact. Every so often, I think back on that conversation with a bit of... "revulsion" is the best word.
     
  17. Mar 24, 2011 #16
    Ignorance in the lab breeds disaster and death.
     
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