A chemical found in everything from babies’ dummies to condoms may cause cancer, global health chiefs say.
The World Health Organisation has concluded that MBT, which is used in rubber manufacturing, ‘probably causes cancer’.
It says the chemical is in rubber gloves, condoms, soft playground surfaces made of ‘rubber crumb’, medical catheters and car tyres. Other potential sources include rubber insoles for shoes, air beds, elastic bands, babies’ dummies and swimming caps and goggles.
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Rubber crumb, granules of rubber made from recycled tyres, is also a key component of the 3G football pitches that are springing up around the country. The all-weather surfaces are already at the centre of a cancer scare, with claims that they contain mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxic chemicals.
It is feared that players, and particularly goalkeepers, will accidentally swallow the substance when diving. The rubber could also become lodged in cuts and grazes.
Nigel Maguire, whose 18-year-old son Lewis, a keen goalkeeper, has the immune system cancer Hodgkin lymphoma, said: ‘This crumb rubber goes everywhere.’
Mr Maguire, who took early retirement from his job as chief executive of NHS Cumbria to help his son, said: ‘Lewis has come in saying, ‘I’ve got it in my eyes, in my ears, in my mouth’. We’d have to scrape it off his kit. The more I look into it, the more horrified I am.’
At a meeting in Lyon, France, 24 experts from eight countries said they were satisfied there was enough evidence to add the chemical – which has long been blamed for skin allergies – to its ‘encyclopaedia of carcinogens’.
The rating, as a substance that ‘probably causes cancer’, puts it alongside red meat and only one rung below cigarettes, asbestos and other substances that definitely cause the disease.
Professor Hans Kromhout, a member of the committee that reviewed the chemical, said: ‘It has been identified in gloves and baby bottle teats and soothers.
‘It has recently been identified in inhalable road dust with the wearing of rubber tyres the most likely source of this contamination.’
A leading British expert on chemical exposure urged the public not to worry, saying everyday items were unlikely to pose a threat.
But the WHO admitted that it was unaware of the scale of the risk.
And campaigners urged people to ask retailers if MBT – full name 2-mercaptobenzothiazole – was in products before buying them.
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