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Medical Anthropology Quarterly

Waiting for the Body Count: Corporate Decision Making and Bladder Cancer in the U.S. Dye Industry

Authors

  • David Michaels

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Epidemiology and Social Medicine Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine
      Department of Epidemiology and Social Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center, 111 East 210th Street, Bronx, NY 10467
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Department of Epidemiology and Social Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center, 111 East 210th Street, Bronx, NY 10467

Abstract

Scientists in Europe determined in the early part of the 20th century that beta-naphthylamine (BNA) and benzidine, two chemicals widely used in the production of dyes, were potent bladder carcinogens. Yet the accumulation and dissemination of scientific information about occupational bladder cancer had little impact on U.S. dye producers with regard to protecting the health of workers in their employ. As a result, hundreds of workers developed bladder cancer. This case study explores the worker protection policies of four U.S. dye manufacturers and demonstrates that these corporations allowed uncontrolled exposure to occur until the human cost became so obvious that it was no longer possible to ignore. These data underscore the limitations of voluntary corporate compliance with workplace health and safety regulation, and suggest the need for more active governmental involvement in the dissemination of technical information to employers, unions, and the public.

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