The two chief manufactures of a pesticide recently found to cause sterility in chemical workers here knew more than 20 years ago that the same pesticide caused sterility in animals.
Results of tests of the pesticide dibromochloropropane (DBCP) conducted by the Dow and Shell Chemical companies in the mid-1950s were published in a scientific journal in 1961.
But neither the chemical workers nor the federalagency charged with protecting them knew about the tests until other medical tests this month found 26 male DPCP workers were sterile. Tests at a plant in Magnolia, Ark., found 12 men sterile.
In addition, at least five scientific studies have reported DBCP causes cancer in animals. And the National Cancer Institute is expected to declare the pesticide a carcinogen soon.
Currently, however there are no standards governing DBCP use, and federal officials are beginning to call it "another kepone situation," a reference to the incident in Hopewell, Va, where a number of workers in a pesticide plant suffered nuerological disorders.
The case, Eula Bingham, chief of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), said yesterday, points to the need for a general blit on the pesticide industry. THese are all toxic substances. People have to be informed about the hazards so workers understand what they're dealing with."
"I'm not surprised this happened," she added. "And it may happen time and time again until we do something about it."
Her remarks offer little comfort to Ted Bricker, 31,M who worked the last three year in what is now called the "sterility chamber" at Occidental Chemical Co's fertilizer plant here.
"We've got young people here who don't have any family," he said. "I have one kid. We had him before I went to work in the (DBCP) unit. ANd how we wonder what else they might find. We've got one 24-year-old kid who's already had a brain tumor. Another man bleeds from the nose."
Bricker and other workers first became concerned about a year ago when they realized "everyone was having trouble having kids," he said. No one was using contraceptives, none of the wives were on the pill."
"The sad thing is that we didn't get to it earlier," he said. "We just talked about it a lot. I guess we know we were sterile even before we took the tests. They just confirmed it."
He paused, then added: "Some of us are angry sure. They were running tests back in 52. They had literature out in the 60s. That is what's puzzling. Why didn't they tell us?"
The Occidental plant in this city, about 65 miles from San Francisco in the San Joaquin Valley, is one of about 80 plants in the nation where DBCP is manufactured, or mixed with other chemicals. A chemical soil fumigant,often sold under the trade names of Fumazone or Nemagon, DBCP is used to kill parasite worms that feed on such diverse drops as pineapple, cotton and potatoes.
No one know exactly how many industrial workers have come in contact with lesser quantitites of it.
Medical tests are now being conducted at a Shell chemical plant in Denver in addition to earlier tests here and in Magnolia. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency is investigating whether the DBCP has caused any soil, water or air pollution around the plants manufacturing the pesticide.
"We have to handle this like the Kepone situation," said Edwin Johnson. EPA deputy administrator. "We have to be out looking for the same things we found in the Kepone incident if we're going to learn anything from our mistakes."
In the Kepone case, a small company, Lide Science Products, was found to be making a pesticide - all of which it sold to Allied Chemical Co. - that poisoned Workers and polluted the James River. The plant was closed and Allied Chemical was fined $13.2 million. More than 70 persons were found to have suffered nerve damage from kepone.
DBCP, like Kepone.
DBCP, like Kepone, is a little known pesticide, produced for agricultural use. Like Kepone, and leptophos, another pesticide found to cuase nerve damage last year, many of its dangers were documented years ago, but little or nothing was done to regulate its use.
The Shell chemical company, it was learned, began animal laboratory tests on DBCP at the University of California's San Francisco Medical Center in 1952, and the center issued findings to the company in an internal paper in 1954. The paper discussed severalmedical problems found in the animals, including the shrinking of testicles and sterility. Dow Chemical conducted similar tests, and the joint results were published in the Journal of Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology in 1961.
That report concluded: "Excessive exposure to the liver, kidneys, and various tissues including sperm cells and sminiferous tubules, dermins, bronchioles, renal collecting tubules, lens and cornea, and the alimentary canal."
Interviewed in San Francisco. Dr. C.H. Hine, one of the scientists who conducted the study, said he felt medical directors at Shell and Dow should have pursued the sterility hangle,. "Yur have to wonder what happened at Shell and Dow." he added.
Both shell and Dow which supplies DBCP to Occidental Chemical, continued manufacturing the pesticide until the initial reports of sterility among workers came out several weeks ago.
Dow recommended that exposure to DBCP to Occidental Chemical, continued manufacturing the pesticide until the intial reports of sterility among workers came out several weeks ago.
Dow recommended that exposure to DBCP be kept under one part per million per cubic meter of air. Company officials at Occidental said they limited exposure to one-third part per million.
Officials at Shell could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Dr. Etcyl Blair, director of health and environmental affairs for Dow, said his company feels DBCP is safe, if used within prescribed limits. Asked about the 1961 journal article, he said, "You can measure similar things from a lot of the things we work with. Tosic chemicals are dangerous by definition."
"There's nothing inherent in that compound that means it can't be handled safely," he said. "What we con't know in this case is if something unusual happened at those plants that cuaaused this problem."
"The biggest thing we want to get at now is an immediate solution to the problem," he added. "We want to find if the sterility is reversible. We don't know at this point."
Don, he said, distributes health safety data to the buyer on all the chemicals it sells.
Data sheets obtained by The Washington Post on DBCP, however, make no mention of any danger of sterility, although they do warn that overexposure can result in injury to the lungs, liver and kidneys.
James H. Lindley, vice president and western division manager of Occidental Chemical Co., claimed he had no idea the chemical could cause sterility until he was told July 15 by a local officer of the Oil, Chemical and Aromic Workers Union that seven wrorkers had been found sterile.
"We were in a state of shock," he said. I really didn'tknow what to do. Iasked my manage if he had ever heard of such a thing. He said no. I phone 1 others. No one had heard of sterility in any of our operations."
"It never dawned on me that his sort of thing could occur in our industry."
lindley, who has four children, shitfed back and forth behind his desk clearly distressed. "How do I feel? Terrible. Same as if it was me."