February 4th is World Cancer Day.
World Cancer Day is an initiative of the Union for International Cancer Control, which is dedicated to reducing the global burden of cancer, promoting greater equity, and integrating cancer control in the world health and development agenda. The goal of World Cancer Day is to raise awareness, mobilize action, and inspire change to reduce the impact of cancer worldwide.
Occupational cancer is under-recognized.
There are over 60 confirmed workplace carcinogens and workers around the world are exposed to them every day. Occupational cancer is almost entirely preventable and represents a significant burden on society and individuals. For example, research led by the Occupational Cancer Research Centre and funded by the Canadian Cancer Society found that workplace exposure to carcinogens causes approximately 3,500 lung cancers every year in Canada. The majority of these cancers are caused by exposure to asbestos, diesel engine exhaust, and crystalline silica.
Reducing exposure can prevent cancer.
Diesel engine exhaust is a complex mixture of gases and particulates that forms from the combustion of diesel fuel. Diesel engine exhaust is a known lung carcinogen and a suspected bladder carcinogen. According to CAREX Canada, high levels of exposure occur mainly among miners who work underground, but exposure also occurs among truck drivers, heavy equipment operators, and transit operators. Approximately 560 lung cancers and 200 suspected bladder cancers are attributed to occupational exposure to diesel engine exhaust each year in Canada, mainly in the mining and transportation sectors. These cancers result in approximately $684 million in costs to society, based on estimates by the Institute for Work & Health.
Diesel emissions can be reduced by substitution with fuel alternatives, such as natural gas or electricity, or replacing old engines with newer, low-emission models. These changes help reduce occupational and environmental exposure to diesel engine exhaust. Control strategies such as local exhaust ventilation, aftertreatment systems (e.g., diesel particulate filters), limited idling, and regular engine maintenance can also help reduce exposure. There is also significant opportunity to reduce exposure to diesel engine exhaust through the implementation of occupational exposure limits. Outside of the mining industry, there are currently no occupational exposure limits for diesel engine exhaust in any Canadian jurisdiction. Within mining, the current limits do not reflect the current scientific understanding of the relationship between diesel exhaust and cancer.
What is being done in Ontario?
In 2016 Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety System initiated an Occupational Disease Action Plan (ODAP). Diesel Engine exhaust is a priority exposure under ODAP. In partnership with CAREX Canada and the Occupational Cancer Research Centre, ODAP hosted a webinar on diesel engine exhaust exposure in the workplace, which is now available online. To coincide with World Cancer Day, ODAP (in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety) is also launching a website devoted to the prevention of occupational disease:
The goal of these activities is to raise awareness about the importance of preventing hazardous workplace exposures, like diesel engine exhaust.
For more information on occupational cancer and diesel engine exhaust:
- CAREX-OCRC Webinar on Diesel Exposure in Workplaces
- CAREX Canada Resources
- CAREX Canada Diesel Engine Exhaust Profile
- CAREX Summaries of key exposures for various occupations and industries
- Infographics on control strategies for diesel engine exhaust in mining, construction, and on-road applications
- More on Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs) for diesel engine exhaust in Ontario
- Burden of Occupational Cancer Resources
- Safe work Australia Dangers of Diesel Exhaust Fumes for Business
- Rob McDonald of BHP Billiton speaking about the Management of Diesel Exhaust Exposure