More than 200 workers at plastics factories in Jessup, Md., and Baltimore are being examined to determine whether they suffered any serious injury from a chemical catalyst used to produce a polyurethane foam.
Dr. Charles Xintaras of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said the catalyst may have caused bladder disorders in some workers. But physicians are also examining them for respiratory disorders and damage to the nervous system.
The tests are being run on 140 employes of William T. Burnett & Co. at its Jessup plant and another 100 workers at a Burnett plant in Baltimore.
Xintaras identified the chemical catalyst as dimethyl amino proprio nitril or "NIAX catalyst ESN" as manufactured commercially by Union Carbide. It enhances the reaction between toluene diisocyanate and polyester resin in the production of polyurethane foam.
In the reaction process, workers can inhale the catalyst and perhaps get some of it on their skin, Xintaras said.
Union Carbide removed the chemical catalyst from the commercial market after the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration warned that it could cause an "imminent danger" to workers coming in contact with it. The catalyst has been used in some form or other by 54 companies nationwide.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said some workers coming in contact with the chemical catalyst had complained of muscle weakness, loss of balance, sexual impotence and numbness in addition to bladder disorders.
Workers at a plastics factory in Marblehead, Mass., which also makes the polyurethane foam, are also being given physical examinations to determine if there have been anyserious injuries from the chemical catalyst.
Joseph Sollers, vice president of Bennett & Co., said "we have every reason to believe that it (any injury) is temporary and the people are getting better."
He said the company discontinued use of the chemical catalyst two weeks ago and that it had been used off and on for a year or two.
Xintaras said a study is currently being done to determine the level of workers' exposure to the chemical catalyst at other places where it may have been used.
In Baltimore, Jessup and in Marblehead, employes are being given a general physical exam, blood and urine tests, a pulmonary exam and are being asked to fill out an extensive questionnaire.
Xintaras said it will be weeks before the data from the exams in evaluated and longer before officials are able to determine whether the chemical catalyst caused any permanent damage.