Cancer probe targets steel industry chemicals

EXPERTS are launching a major investigation into whether chemicals used in the steel industry are to blame for causing cancer in Rotherham.

Bladder cancer, which is caused primarily by smoking or exposure to workplace chemicals, is particularly common in places like Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley, where incidence and mortality rates are higher than the national average.

Some chemicals found in industries such as the rubber and dye trades are already known to cause the disease and are used in a controlled, safe environment.

But researchers at the University of Sheffield think the region's metal industries could be using these chemicals in a less controlled manner or using chemicals that are not yet known to cause cancer, and are hoping that their study could lead to changes in health and safety law.

The outcome of the investigation, funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research, could also mean compensation for bladder cancer patients across Yorkshire.

James Catto, who is leading the investigation, said: “Bladder cancer is a common and serious problem in Yorkshire. The trend for smoking is the same in most parts of the country, so we believe there is an occupational factor causing this.

“During our investigation we will treat normal cells with metals that people are exposed to during work, to see if they cause the cancerous changes in the test tube.

“Alongside the molecular study, we will conduct a direct patient survey which will involve taking occupational histories from 2,000 bladder cancer patients at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.

“We hope that by the end of these investigations we will have evidence to help the Government bring in new legislation to protect workers.”

As well as improving the way chemicals are used, the team hopes to identify those at high risk of developing cancer so it can be caught at an early stage or prevented, and develop treatments that could reduce the toxicity of the chemicals.

Dr Kathryn Scott, research liaison officer for Yorkshire Cancer Research, added: “The hope is that key chemicals which cause cells to switch from normal to cancerous can be identified so that workers can be protected from exposure in the future and ultimately reduce the incidence rates of this common cancer in South Yorkshire.”