Current and former employees at seven Phillips Petroleum Co. pipe extrusion facilities will be tested for traces of a chemical contaminant that could cause bladder cancer.
An estimated 800-1,000 employees are being notified there is a possibility they may have been exposed to betanaphthylamine, or BNA, while working at the plants from 1970-1996, Phillips spokesman Vernon Johnson said in an April 8 telephone interview from the company's Bartlesville, Okla., headquarters.
Phillips is offering urine testing to any employee who may have had some exposure to the chemical, which is a byproduct of di-beta-naphthyl-para-phenylenediamine, or DNPD, a stabilizer formerly used in the resin for Phillips' Driscopipe unit.
Richardson, Texas-based Dris-copipe declined to identify the resin manufacturer, but said it was an outside supplier — not Phillips Petroleum.
Traces of BNA were discovered in the air during routine testing for possible contaminants in 1996. Phillips then found very low levels of BNA in DNPD and stopped using it as an additive, Johnson said.
The company is unsure of the percentage of resin containing BNA that Driscopipe used. However, officials said it was used in oil and water pipe.
BNA is a known carcinogen, but Johnson said the company was not aware that it could be released into the air during the extrusion process, Johnson said.
Phillips now is searching for all past employees of the plants in Watsonville, Calif.; Pryor, Okla.; Brownsville, Texas; Williamstown, Ky.; and Startex, S.C. Testing also is being scheduled at the Plastics Technical Center in Bartlesville and Phillips subsidiary American Thermoplast Co. in Houston.
``We're trying to find everyone who may have been exposed to BNA. We are trying to do the right thing,'' Johnson said.
Testing for current employees of the Watsonville and Brownsville plants was completed in February. Employees at the Pryor facility will be tested this week, he added.
Representatives from the University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center School of Public Health are helping Phillips locate and educate employees on bladder cancer and the effects BNA could have.
The Baylor College of Medicine and Research Administration Services will evaluate the results of the urine tests. Employees with abnormal test results will be referred to urologists, Johnson said.
In order for BNA exposure to cause bladder cancer, Johnson said a worker probably would have had to work very close to an extruder. Phillips does not know of any BNA-linked cancer cases at the company.
The company pledges to fund the treatment of any employee, past or present, who is diagnosed with bladder cancer, he said.
``Phillips will always be there. This is not just a one-shot deal,'' Johnson said.
Johnson said BNA cannot leak into the fluids flowing through finished polyethylene pipe.
Another major PE pipe maker said DNPD was not widely used in the pipe industry.
Paul Petro, president of the Plexco Division of Chevron Corp. in Bensenville, Ill., said his firm never used any processing stabilizer that included BNA. In addition, Plexco stopped using stabilizers nearly 20 years ago, he said.
Phillips is testing its employees under the Responsible Care program devised by the Chemical Manufacturers Association. Phillips is not being forced by the government or any health safety group to perform the tests, Johnson said.