Diesel Fumes Linked to Lung CancerJan 12, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP Recent research suggests that lung cancer risks are higher among trucking industry workers because of diesel fume exposure. According to a new study published in the January issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, workers in the trucking industry with an estimated 20 years on the job have an elevated risk of lung cancer with each increasing year of work due to their diesel fume exposure.
Scientists have long known that diesel fumes might play a role in the development of lung cancer. According to a report on SFgate.com, diesel fumes consist of a toxic stew of about 400 chemicals, including benzene, formaldehyde, arsenic, cyanide and lead. Breathing large amounts of diesel fumes could cause respiratory diseases, and people with asthma, heart disease and emphysema can worsen if exposed to the exhaust. Long-term exposure leads to chronic obstructive lung disease as well as lung cancer.
For the Environmental Health Perspectives study, researchers at Harvard and UC Berkeley analyzed work records for 31,135 male workers employed in the unionized U.S. trucking industry in 1985. They examined lung cancer mortality through 2000 for jobs associated with current and historical use of diesel-, gas- and propane-powered vehicles using the National Death Index. The eight categories of workers studied were long-haul driver, pickup and delivery drivers, dockworker, combination worker in the truck cab or loading dock, mechanic, hostler in a terminal yard, clerks in a terminal office, and other jobs.
According to the study, there were 4,306 deaths and 779 cases of lung cancer from 1985 through 2000. Long-haul drivers, pickup and delivery drivers, dockworkers, and combination workers all had significantly elevated hazard ratios After making allowances for the amount of smoking typical in each job, the researchers concluded that the cancer risk for drivers working short pickup and delivery runs and dockworkers rose a little over 2 percent per year, and grew faster than risks for long-haul drivers.
The authors of the report wrote that the studies results indicated that regulation of diesel emissions was important. "These results along with previous studies support current efforts to reduce emissions from both diesel vehicles and other sources of vehicle and traffic-related emissions," the report said.
The study is already impacting public policy in at least one state. Citing the study, the California Air Resources Board passed the nation’s strictest rules for diesel truck emissions this past December. The new regulations require all truck companies to initially retrofit their fleets with diesel trap oxidizers by 2010. Trucks older than 2010 will have to be replaced, on a staggered schedule, by the year 2020. Companies with fleets of one to three trucks have an extra year to comply. Fines for non-compliance could be as much as $10,000 per day.