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Mortality in chemical workers potentially exposed to 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) 1945–94: an update


OBJECTIVE To update and add to a previously identified cohort of employees potentially exposed to the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D). The putative association between 2,4-D and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma has been debated for more than a decade.

METHODS Cohort members were male employees of The Dow Chemical Company who manufactured or formulated 2,4-D any time from 1945 to the end of 1994. Their mortality experience was compared with national rates and with more than 40 000 other company employees who worked at the same location.

RESULTS 330 Deaths were observed among 1517 people compared with 365 expected (standardised mortality ratio (SMR)=0.90, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.81 to 1.01). There were no significantly increased SMRs for any of the causes of death analyzed. When compared with the United States rates, the SMR for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) was 1.00 (95% CI 0.21 to 2.92). The internal comparison with other Dow employees showed a non-significant relative risk of 2.63, (95% CI 0.85 to 8.33). Death was attributed to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for three cohort members. Compared with the other company employees, the relative risk was 3.45 (95% CI 1.10 to 11.11). The cases were employed in the manufacture or formulation of 2,4-D at different periods (1947–9, 1950–1, and 1968–86), and for varying durations of time (1.3, 1.8, and 12.5 years).

CONCLUSION There was no evidence of a causal association between exposure to 2,4-D and mortality due to all causes and total malignant neoplasms. No significant risk due to NHL was found. Although not an initial hypothesis, an increased relative risk of ALS was noted. This finding is unsupported by other animal and human studies.

  • 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid
  • phenoxy herbicide
  • occupation
  • non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

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