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14 March 2012

USA: Diesel exhaust a serious cancer risk in miners

Miners exposed to high levels of diesel exhaust face a dramatically increased lung cancer risk, has found a study carried out by the US National Cancer Institute (NCI).The Diesel Exhaust in Miners Study (DEMS) involved baseline health assessments and lifetime follow-up with a total of 12,315 workers in eight different non-metal mining facilities.The findings, delayed by a court challenge from a mine industry lobby group, were finally published on 2 March 2012 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The most heavily exposed miners had three times the risk of death from lung cancer compared to workers with the lowest exposures, said the study. But even workers with lower exposures had a 50 per cent increased risk, wrote lead author Debra Silverman, an NCI epidemiologist. The study also found a significantly increased risk of oesophageal cancer and pneumoconiosis."Our findings are important not only for miners but also for the 1.4 million American workers and the three million European workers exposed to diesel exhaust, and for urban populations worldwide," Silverman wrote.The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is due to review diesel exhaust evidence in June. Some believe the US study could lead to the agency upgrading diesel exhaust from a 'probably carcinogenic to humans' group 2A rating to group 1, a known cause of cancer in humans.

Although the diesel exhaust study was conceived in 1992, industry opposition, led by the Mining Awareness Resource Group (MARG), kept the results secret until now.The industry coalition won a court order in 2001 after the government mishandled a procedural filing, forcing scientists to turn over all data and drafts of research papers before publication, for a 90-day review period. After a year-long process of peer review, the DEMS scientists recently turned over to industry and others copies of two major papers they planned to publish in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The mining coalition made no official reply, but in mid-February, as the 90-day waiting period began to wane, Henry Chajet, a Washington D.C.-based lawyer and lobbyist for the MARG sent a letter to at least four science journals warning them that they risked unspecified consequences if they published the study. Sources: TUC Risks, Associated Press

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