New chemical substance poisons reproductive organs
by KATAOKA Akihiko
Among the numerous chemical substances introduced into workplaces whose toxicity is unknown is 2-boromopropane (2-BP), an organic solvent used for cleaning electronic parts. This is produced not only in Japan, but in France, Israel, China and the USA. Fortunately its toxicity was established after several complaints by workers in an electronic appliance manufacturer in S. Korea.
In February 1994, several workers in a subsidiary company of a Japanese electric appliance manufacturer had nausea and headache immediately after they used 2-BP imported from Japan. A government laboratory there discovered that among those who had handled the solvent, female workers missed menstruation and males showed reduced sperm count. At the end of 1996, when informed of the observations, the Japanese Labor Ministry distributed an emergency notice to the industries involved, and commissioned several institutes to examine the chemical substance for reproductive toxicity. Animal experiments conducted showed contracted orchis and impaired hematopoiesis. Its mutability, however, had been identified by some vendors earlier, who had recommended their users that it should be replaced by 1-bromopropane, a more stable substance of the same family. Meanwhile, the Labor Ministry continues to reject disclosing the trade names for 2-BP as well as the names of the 2-BP vendors and handling companies. It is as if this hazardous material doesnot exist officially. It is obvious that this obscurantism prevents potential sufferers from claiming damages and trying to eliminate 2-BP from their workplaces.
These efforts by the Labor Ministry will probably accelerate the move from 2-BP to 1-BP. The alternative material, however, has not proved to be free of reproductive toxicity because it has not been tested in these terms. Some government institutes will examine this risk. New chemical materials are generally subject only to a simplified mutability test before they are commercially available in Japan. It is reported that the Labor Ministry is planning to include neurotoxicity and reproductive toxicity tests in the testing scheme in fiscal 1997. Cobalt sulfate is slated to be tested for reproductive toxicity, and butyl acrylate will be epidemiologically studied.
An Information Disclosure Law is on the agenda of the Diet. We hope to use this law to extract any useful information for workers from the government organizations monopolizing it.
JOSHRC NEWSLETTER No.11 (Sep, 1997)
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