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Study of two cohorts of workers exposed to methyl methacrylate in acrylic sheet production


OBJECTIVES To study mortality among 4324 workers at two United Kingdom factories, Darwen, Lancashire and Wilton, Cleveland, producing polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) sheet. The Darwen factory is still active, but the Wilton one was closed in 1970. Also, to investigate patterns of mortality after exposure to methyl methacrylate; in particular, mortality from colon and rectal cancer.

METHODS All male employees at the Darwen factory with a record of employment in 1949–88 and all men ever employed at the Wilton factory (1949–70) were investigated. The vital status of both cohorts was ascertained on 31 December 1995. The exposure of 1526 subjects at the Darwen plant who were engaged from 1949 onwards could be characterised. The mean duration of exposure was 7.6 years at 13.2 ppm (8 hour time weighted average), although exposures in some work groups were as high as 100 ppm. It was not possible to calculate the cumulative exposure of workers first employed at the Darwen plant before 1949 or workers at the Wilton factory.

RESULTS In the Darwen cohort, 622 deaths were identified and a further 700 deaths in the Wilton cohort. Mortalities for the cohort were compared with national and local rates and expressed as standardised mortality ratios (SMRs). In the subcohort of Darwen workers with more than minimal exposure to MMA, reduced mortalities compared with national and local rates, were found for all causes (SMR 94), and colorectal cancer (SMR 92), but mortality from all cancers was slightly increased (SMR 104). No relations were found with cumulative exposure to MMA. In the subcohort of Wilton workers, mortality from all causes of death was significantly reduced (SMR 89), but mortality from all cancers (SMR 103) and colorectal cancer (SMR 124) were increased. The excess of colorectal cancer was confined to employees with less than 1 year of employment.

CONCLUSION The study provided no clear evidence that employment at the factories or exposure to MMA had adversely affected the mortalities of workers.

  • methyl methacrylate
  • mortality

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