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Environ Res. 1989 Aug;49(2):143-51.

Comparison of potency of human carcinogens: vinyl chloride, chloromethylmethyl ether and bis(chloromethyl)ether.

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Institute of Environmental Medicine, New York University Medical Center, New York 10016.


The alpha-chloroether carcinogen chloromethylmethyl ether (CME) and its impurity bis(chloromethyl)ether (BCME) are direct-acting alkylating agents. Vinyl chloride (VC) is an indirect-acting carcinogen but its accepted carcinogenic intermediate, chloroethylene oxide, is also an alpha-chloroether. Both CME-BCME and VC have been in industrial use since about 1950. Hence, they were selected for comparison of potency as human carcinogens using numerous epidemiologic reports. There were 115 deaths due to angiosarcoma of the liver among several hundred thousand VC-exposed workers on the basis of reports from 10 countries during 1955 and 1984. Reports from five countries cited a total of 87 respiratory cancer deaths among only 3024 CME-BCME-exposed workers. If a recent court settlement in the United States is taken into account, the number of respiratory cancer deaths due to CME-BCME rises to 117. On the basis of these numbers of cancer deaths, and the levels and durations of exposure, it is concluded that VC is a weak human carcinogen compared to CME-BCME.

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