A breast cancer survivor brings work-related carcinogens to the public’s attention.
Work-related carcinogens need more scrutiny
Why aren’t workers better protected, asks breast cancer survivor
By Amina Zafar
Posted: Mar 22, 2012 5:38 AM ET
A breast cancer survivor who was exposed to a toxic mix of cancer-causing chemicals on the job at a plastic factory 20 years ago is warning that the health of workers still isn’t protected enough.
Sandy Knight, a former health and safety chairperson at a plastics factory in Windsor, Ont., now speaks to men and women about potentially dangerous substances in the workplace.
She says she hears about five-minute brush-up sessions on the dangers, which Knight calls little help when an industry has high worker turnover rates.
“I was just so amazed to hear what’s going on,” the Burlington, Ont., resident said. “You’re doing what we did back in the ’80s,” such as working without adequate ventilation.
Provincial and federal laws regulate the use of known cancer-causing substances in the workplace, but some experts say workplace exposure to carcinogens has not come under enough scrutiny.
As part of a three-part series, Exposed: On the Job, CBC News looked at what carcinogens are present in Canadian workplaces and how Canadian regulations stand up.
Workers ‘hardly protected’
Researchers Jim Brophy and Margaret Keith are trying to determine how breast cancer may be caused by exposure to carcinogens in the workplace, part of their ongoing effort to raise concern about on-the-job exposures to toxic substances.
“Blue-collar industrial workers are hardly being protected by current standards that almost no one is enforcing,” said Brophy.
Brophy and Keith, who have worked in occupational and environmental health for 30 years in the Windsor, Ont., area, have combined provincial labour inspectors’ reports with the observations of female workers employed in the plastics industry dating back to the 1960s.
By piecing together the historical exposures, the researchers, who are working under a Health Canada grant given to York University’s National Network on the Environment and Women’s Health, hope to learn more about why more breast cancers are occurring now in industrialized countries.
Asbestos was the first carcinogen to raise concerns with the two researchers — and they believe the impact of the hazardous fibre’s use is far from over.
“We’re seeing just the tip of the iceberg for asbestos disease,” said Brophy, since few cases are recognized by family doctors.