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30 May 2017

Emissions from France’s diesel fleet still qualify as human carcinogens

A note published on 22 May by the government-funded French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) states unequivocally that the diesel vehicles currently on the road in France are still emitting human carcinogens.

This statement is based on recent epidemiological studies showing a positive association between exposure to air pollution caused by road traffic and lung cancer rates.

The latest-generation diesel engines which have been gradually appearing on the European market since the early 2000s are fitted with particulate filters and oxidation catalysts designed to achieve a drastic reduction in the level of carcinogens in diesel fumes.

ANSES therefore decided to examine whether there had been any change in the level or carcinogenicity of diesel emissions. According to the recently published note, France’s current diesel fleet is characterised by the continued presence of older vehicles alongside newer ones, and emissions from this fleet still contain carcinogenic compounds (diesel particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, dioxins, formaldehyde, etc.).

ANSES believes that the current research into exhaust emissions from the latest generation of diesel engines is too thin on the ground to rule out the possibility of carcinogenicity.

These conclusions are significant because they disprove one of the main arguments used by the European Commission as a basis for rejecting the inclusion of a binding occupational exposure limit value (BOELV) for diesel emissions in the Directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work, which is currently being revised. In January 2017, the European Commission justified its refusal to adopt the relevant BOELV on the grounds that the standards which apply to new diesel engines ensure that their fumes are no longer carcinogenic, a decision which has come in for heavy criticism by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

Over 3.6 million workers in Europe are exposed to diesel fumes as part of their job. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified exhaust gases from older diesel engines as proven human carcinogens in 2012.

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