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24 October 2014

Increased risk of lung cancer among bricklayers

Bricklayers are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, according to the findings of an epidemiological study recently published in the International Journal of Cancer. The risk of contracting lung cancer increases in proportion to the length of time spent working in the occupation. The authors see the probable cause as being building workers' regular exposure to a cocktail of carcinogens that provokes synergistic effects*.

They point, in particular, to the role played by crystalline silica, found in sand, gravel, clay, stone, etc. and hence present in the course of numerous building operations such as the cutting of materials including ceramic products. Almost 20% of the workforce in the construction industry is regularly exposed to crystalline silica dust.

The study was based on data gathered in 13 European countries, Canada, Hong Kong and New Zealand. Currently, crystalline silica is not covered by the EU directive on carcinogens. The revision of this directive to extend its scope to a larger number of carcinogens has been progressing at a snail's pace since 2004.

In December 2012, the European Advisory Committee for Safety and Health at Work (ACSH) – on which unions, employers and governments are represented – adopted an opinion in favour of defining a binding occupational exposure limit value for silica which is not so far covered by this legislation.

*A synergistic effect is the situation where the combined effect of two chemicals is much greater than the sum of the effects of each agent given alone.

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