W.H.O. Declares Diesel Fumes Cause Lung Cancer

The World Health Organization has declared that diesel fumes cause lung cancer. The announcement is important for people who are exposed to diesel exhaust in their work places. In the announcement, experts said diesel fumes were more carcinogenic than secondhand cigarette smoke.

Diesel exhaust now shares the W.H.O.’s Group 1 carcinogen status with smoking, asbestos, ultraviolet radiation, alcohol and other elements that pose cancer risks.

The United States and other developed nations require modern diesel engines to burn much cleaner than they did a decade ago. Most industries, like mining, already have limits on the amount of diesel fumes to which workers may be exposed.

Dr. Otis W. Brawley, medical director of the American Cancer Society, praised the ruling by the W.H.O.’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, saying his group “has for a long time had concerns about diesel.”

Dr. Brawley said it was probably not dangerous to have a diesel car, but it’s not good to breathe its exhaust. He said he was concerned about people like toll collectors, who are exposed to fumes for long periods. He added, “I’m very concerned about people like miners, who work where exhaust is concentrated.”

Debra T. Silverman, a U.S. government cancer researcher who headed the study that led to the W.H.O. decision, said she was “totally in support” of the W.H.O. ruling and expected that the government would soon declare diesel exhaust a carcinogen.

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health have rated diesel as a potential, not proven, carcinogen.

Dr. Silverman, chief of environmental epidemiology for the National Cancer Institute, said her study of 50 years of exposure to diesel fumes by 12,000 miners showed that nonsmoking miners who were heavily exposed to diesel fumes for years had seven times the normal lung cancer risk of nonsmokers. Dr. Silverman said her research indicated that occupational diesel exposure was a far greater lung cancer risk than passive cigarette smoking, but a much smaller risk than smoking two packs a day.

Many studies have suggested links between diesel and lung cancer, but Dr. Silverman said hers was the first to measure with precision how much diesel exhaust each group of mineworkers was exposed to. Her study clearly established that the more a miner was exposed to diesel, the greater the cancer risk, she said.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois work place injuries made on behalf of individuals and families for more than 36 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Wheeling, Prospect Heights, Des Plaines, Norridge, Chicago (Portage Park), River Forest, Maywood, Cicero, Bedford Park and Chicago (Hyde Park), Illinois.

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Photo credit:

Joming Lau