ALARMING rates of cancer have been found at a rubber chemical plant in North Wales by university scientists.
Extensive research carried out at Birmingham University found that at least 10 people at Wrexham’s Flexsys factory in Cefn Mawr may have already suffered premature deaths as a result.
A study by Professor Tom Sorahan found workers who came into contact with mercaptobenzothiazole – known as 2-MBT – were twice as likely to die from large intestine cancer.
They were also three times more likely to die from bladder cancer.
Also, workers were twice as likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer, and four times as likely to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma – bone marrow cancer.
If it is backed up by future studies it could pave the way for compensation claims stretching back decades, concerned union chiefs said last night.
Yesterday Prof Sorahan said more research needed to be carried out at other plants around the world which used the chemical, to see if the results were repeated.
Flexsys bosses yesterday said they were reviewing the findings.
The last time MBT was used at the plant was in 2001, they said.
Prof Sorahan added: “The research showed that you were twice as likely to get cancer of the colon, and four times as likely to get multiple myeloma.
“I understand Flexsys no longer uses the chemical but it is used elsewhere in the world, so it is important for other studies to be conducted to see if the results are confirmed.
“However if different results are found there may be a need to look for an alternative explanation.”
In the meantime Prof Sorahan believes that MBT, an accelerant which speeds up the process of strengthening rubber, should be handled with increased care because of the risk that it is carcinogenic.
A Flexsys spokesman said: “Flexsys is aware of this preliminary study which concludes that ‘confident evaluation of these findings requires further study’.
“The health and welfare of our employees is of primary importance to the company, and as such we are reviewing the study in order to identify what, if any, actions should be taken in terms of further investigation.
“MBT was produced at the Ruabon plant from the 1930s until 2001 and it continues to be manufactured for Flexsys at one other location.
“For this product and all of the products we develop, manufacture, and market, the company employs great care to ensure that they do not pose undue risks to human health or the environment during all stages of their life cycles.”
Yesterday Unite senior regional organiser Peter Hughes said: “If it is shown there is a link between cancer and the chemical then the union would pursue compensation claims on behalf of workers affected.”
The report examined the impact of MBT on workers who had come into contact with the chemical between 1955-1986 and its affects up to 2005.
Among the 2,160 plant employees analysed, 336 had worked in a job that would have exposed them to MBT.
The results were the culmination of a 15-year study.
Workers were told last year the plant was shutting with the loss of 163 jobs, although it is still currently operating.
There is no reason to believe any living nearby would be affected but Wrexham County Borough Council leader Aled Roberts said he had asked for research to be carried out on the site once it is decommissioned and the site cleared.