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Preventing Chemical Accidents:  Understanding MSDS’s & Assessing Chemical Hazards

Factsheet #10

The Toxic Time Bomb

It may be a big mistake to think that because you’ve been exposed for many years and have no symptoms, all is well.  In fact, it can take 10 to 40 years to see the results of a harmful exposure to a cancer-causing chemical.  You may be healthy for 20 years and get it the very next year.

The time it takes cancer to show up is call the latency period.  The chart below shows some of the latency periods for different carcinogens.  Unfortunately, there may be thousands of unknown time bombs ticking in our workplaces that have not been discovered yet.

Source:  B.S. Levey and D.H. Wegman, eds., Occupational health: Recognizing and Preventing Work Related Disease, Boston; Little Brown & Co., 1995.

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