Carcinogens in the Workplace

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Occupational Cancer Safety Talk

Carcinogens Safety Talk

Cancer is one of the most devastating illnesses an individual can have. According to, in 2020, an estimated 1,806,590 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, and 606,520 people will die from the disease. Cancer is caused by carcinogens. Carcinogens are defined as any substance or agent that tends to produce a cancer. These carcinogens are found in various parts of our lives, and there can be many found in the workplace.

Carcinogens Overview

There are many substances that are known or considered probable carcinogens. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) is one agency that studies and publishes information on carcinogens. There are approximately 250 substances and exposures listed on NTP’s Report on Carcinogens. Another agency that does research on carcinogens is the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC has evaluated over 900 substances in the last 30 years. These substances are placed into one of five groups ranging from Group 1: Carcinogenic to humans to Group 4: Probably not carcinogenic to humans. Only a few over 100 are placed into the Group 1 Carcinogenic classification.

Ten Common Workplace Carcinogens

There are many different types of carcinogens found in all kinds of workplaces. There are also a few common carcinogens that many different people have the possibility of being exposed to while at work. Some of these carcinogens include:

  1. Asbestos- A group of naturally occurring minerals that form heat-resistant fibers. Found in some building materials, some textiles, and naturally in rock formations.
  2. Crystalline silica- Found in sand, soil, and rock. It is commonly inhaled as a dust during mining or cutting.
  3. Benzene- Found in manufacturing settings. Used to produce some types of rubber, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides. Also found in gasoline and cigarette smoke.
  4. Wood dust- Created during cutting and sanding of wood.
  5. Chromium (hexavalent) – A naturally occurring mineral that becomes carcinogenic when it is transformed into its hexavalent form through industrial processes such as stainless steel manufacturing. Also released during the welding of metals that contain chromium metal.
  6. Nickel- Used to make stainless steel. Also found in magnets, electrical contacts, batteries, spark plugs, and surgical/dental prostheses.
  7. Formaldehyde- Used in the manufacture of textiles, resins, wood products, and plastics. Also used as an embalming fluid.
  8. Ionizing radiation and radioactive elements- Emitted by X-rays. Also emitted from nuclear power plants and other nuclear sources.
  9. Cadmium- Used as pigments in plastics and coatings for electronics, steel, and aluminum to prevent corrosion. Also found in battery production.
  10. Lead- Used in paints, pipes, and pipe solder.

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This is not an exhaustive talk on cancer, carcinogens, or where carcinogens are found. There are hundreds of other known and probable carcinogens found in the world around us. Many of the carcinogens will not be a concern for you, but there are some that you could be exposed to on a daily basis. It is important to understand what a carcinogen is and which ones could be in your environment, both at work and at home.

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