This study estimated the future burden of cancer in the Ontario construction industry from 2030 to 2060, based on current exposure levels. It focused on cancer due to silica, solar UV radiation, diesel engine exhaust, and asbestos exposure. It also estimated the potential impact and cost of control strategies to reduce exposure.
Without intervention, exposure to silica dust in the Ontario construction industry will cause an estimated 3350 lung cancer cases between 2030 and 2060. Over the same time period, implementation of wet cutting methods could prevent 200 cases, while proper use of half-face mask respirators could prevent 180 cases. Fully eliminating exposure to silica by 2030 would prevent 860 cases over the 30-year period (the remaining cases are due to exposure prior to 2030). Based on the economic costs of implementation and the costs saved through averted lung cancer cases, implementation of exposure controls would take between 22 to > 40 years to break even, depending on compliance and effectiveness.
Without intervention, exposure to solar UV radiation in the Ontario construction industry will cause an estimated 27,650 non-melanoma skin cancer cases from 2030-2060. Over the same time period, implementation of portable shade structures could prevent approximately 1960 cases, while PPE (hats with brims and long-sleeved shirts) could prevent 2500 cases. Fully eliminating exposure to solar UV radiation by 2030 would prevent 6030 cases between 2030 and 2060. Based on the economic evaluation of the implementation costs and savings from averted cases, implementation of exposure controls for solar UV radiation would take between 21 and 34 years to break even depending on effectiveness and compliance.
Without intervention, exposure to asbestos in the Ontario construction industry will cause an estimated 6020 lung cancer cases between 2030 and 2060. Over the same time period, implementation of an asbestos ban could prevent approximately 60 cancers, while a building registry could prevent an estimated 440 cancers. Fully eliminating all exposure to asbestos as of 2030 could prevent about 1400 cancers. The small impact of the ban reflects the fact that construction workers are more likely to be exposed to asbestos in existing materials and buildings, rather than new uses.
While it was not feasible to estimate the costs of the asbestos ban or a building registry as part of this study, the Government of Canada has estimated the costs of the national asbestos ban to be approximately $4 million in government administrative costs, with a further $8 million in substitution costs for cement pipe (over the period 2019-2035) for the construction sector Canada-wide.
Without intervention, we estimated that exposure to diesel engine exhaust in the Ontario construction industry will cause approximately 400 lung cancers between 2030 and 2060. However, we believe this is an underestimate caused by limitations of the exposure data currently available. Due to the small number of estimated cases, we did not estimate the impact of any interventions.