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11 October 2017

Swedish study confirms diesel engine exhaust emissions in the workplace as a major cause of lung cancers

A Swedish study, published in June 2017 in European Journal of Epidemiology, compared the occurrence of lung cancer among workers who had been exposed to carcinogenic diesel engine exhaust emissions (DEEEs) in the course of their work and those who had not. The findings of the study confirm that occupational exposure to DEEEs is a major cause of lung cancers.

Occupational exposure to diesel engines appears to be associated with a particularly high risk of developing specific types of lung cancer such as squamous cell carcinomas (which originate in the pulmonary mucosa) and large cell undifferentiated carcinomas.

The researchers found a correlation between levels of risk and exposure, with a particularly high increase in lung cancer occurrence compared to non-exposed workers – approximately 65% – for workers exposed to elemental carbon (one of the components of diesel engine emissions) at levels above 33 µg/m³.

DEEEs are currently the focal point of debates on the proposed revision of the EU Directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work, since the European Commission objects to the inclusion of these carcinogens within the Directive’s scope.

Trade union organisations believe that workers exposed to DEEEs should be included among those covered by the provisions of the Directive, and that a limit value should be set with the aim of significantly reducing current levels of exposure. Almost 20 million workers are exposed to carcinogens at work at some point in their working life, and the European Parliament’s task over the next few months will be to amend the Commission’s proposals on this matter.

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