Diesel Exhaust (DE) is a well known carcinogen (cancer causing substance) according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), American Cancer Society (ACS), and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To better understand the role DE plays in causing certain cancers, researchers have been looking into the amount of DE exposure necessary for cancer to develop.

Two recent studies have done just that. The first was published in March of 2017 and looked at nearly 1,000 cases of occupational DE exposure. The study found that “long-term DE exposure was associated with an increased risk of lung cancer.” Interestingly the study also found that the years of exposure, rather than the intensity of the exposure, increased the risk of developing lung cancer from DE. Therefore, this study should concern workers who have worked in jobs that have exposed them to DE over many years, even if they were only exposed to low levels.

The second study focused on what level of DE exposure in the workplace would be safe. The study found that even the smallest amount of DE exposure would exceed the standard occupational risk standards set by the United States and Europe. For reference, the study found that the number of deaths due to lung cancer from lifetime workplace DE exposure would be 1.7/1,000 at the lowest level of exposure measured in the study (1 μg/m3 ). This would exceed the typically accepted level of occupational risk used by the United States and Europe, which is 1/1,000 deaths.

The study ends by suggesting a number of new areas for research. Included in these suggestions was whether replacing old diesel engines with new diesel engines, which have much lower emissions of harmful byproducts of DE, would lower the chances of developing cancer through workplace exposures. The authors also mention four cities, Mexico City, Paris, Madrid, and Athens, which have proposed banning all diesel vehicles by 2025. The impact this would have on the development of cancer through DE exposure is unknown and, as the authors suggest, would be a useful study for other cities that are considering doing the same.

While it is still unclear exactly how much DE exposure it takes to develop cancer, these two studies have suggested that the level may be much lower than once anticipated. Railroad workers’ extensive exposure to DE has been well documented and, therefore, it is not surprising that railroad workers have such high levels of lung cancer, as well as other types of cancer. If you are a railroad worker with cancer you should not hesitate to contact us with questions that you may have about your rights under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). For more information about occupational diesel exhaust exposure click here.