Diesel industry and regulators condemn thousands to die

A warning over 30 years ago that workplace diesel fume exposures were deadly went ignored, a ‘criminal’ move that condemned thousands of workers each year to an early grave, a report in Hazards magazine has revealed.

The report says if the authorities had listened when the workers’ health magazine first raised the alarm in 1986, “today’s diesel exhaust driven public health catastrophe could have been averted.” It notes that diesel exhaust fumes cause, in the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) estimation, 652 deaths a year from lung and bladder cancer. Exposure is also linked to respiratory disease, heart problems and other chronic and acute health effects.

But the Hazards report says “the UK’s prevention strategy – or absence of one – is based on a fatal mixture of a lack of the right intelligence and lack of give-a-damn. All topped up with a dose of industry foul play.”

The report identifies industry-financed groups commissioned to produce reports to cast doubt in the minds of regulators discussing tighter controls and warnings about diesel fume health risks, a process it says is ongoing. Citing international studies, the Hazards also notes that the real UK diesel-related occupational lung cancer toll could be over 1,700 deaths per year, more than 1,000 more deaths each year than the official HSE estimate.

“If you under-estimate the size of the problem, you don’t respond appropriately. Diesel exhaust fume is not treated like a cancer-causing exposure in UK safety law, despite the official recognition it is one of the top occupational cancer killers. There’s not even an official occupational exposure limit,” the report notes.

A forthcoming EU-wide limit is 2.5 times higher than standard recommended two years ago by its own experts, it says. “The evidence didn’t change in the intervening period. But the industry lobbyists took their chance and governments listened.”

An October 2018 TUC guide highlighted successful union initiatives to reduce risks in the workplace from the ‘workplace killer’ diesel exhaust fumes.

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‘Substantial’ payout in asbestos spying scandal

With offices in London, New York, Madrid, Geneva and Los Angeles, K2 Intelligence boasts it “is redefining 21st century corporate intelligence by combining deep subject-matter expertise with cutting-edge technology in an unprecedented way.”

But it’s not above a bit of old-fashioned spying. Which is why, in November 2018, K2 Intelligence found itself paying ‘substantial’ damages to five prominent anti-asbestos campaigners. The confidential settlement came after evidence emerged K2 had orchestrated a covert surveillance operation intended to undermine efforts to ban the deadly fibre.

One claimant, London-based Laurie Kazan-Allen, heads the respected International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS).  She is arguably the lynchpin and most influential figure in the global campaign against the cancer-causing fibre. The four others were Hazards magazine editor Rory O’Neill, along with lawyers Krishnendu Mukherjee and Harminder Bains, and Sugio Furuya, the Japan-based spearhead of Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN).

The campaigners took their legal case against K2, Matteo Bigazzi, K2’s executive managing director in London, and the hired infiltrator, former TV producer Robert Moore. The London high court heard details of ‘Project Spring’, where Moore was paid six figure sums for four years to infiltrate and spy on the campaigners’ anti-asbestos network, including secretly recording phone conversations and meetings.

K2 settled the legal action two years into the court proceedings, by which time the court had already heard the aim of K2’s espionage was to gather information about the campaigners, their methods, funding and future plans.

The majorasbestos producers are Russia, China and Kazakhstan. China uses its production internally. Russia and Kazakhstan, though, are big exporters. Included in K2’s strategy was gaining inside knowledge on chrysotile usage in Thailand and Vietnam, part of the asbestos industry’s Asia frontline where it is pursuing a well-resourced promotional drive. Asia is seen by Big Asbestos as a major developing market and key to its survival.

K2’s clients, which the global surveillance firm had tried strenuously to conceal, were revealed on the instruction of the high court to be Wetherby Select Ltd, a holding company in the British Virgin Islands; and Kazakh asbestos and employers’ lobbyist Nurlan Omarov. Also named as a client was Daniel Kunin, a US national and deal fixer whose mother, Madeleine, has served as a US ambassador and Vermont state governor.

Asbestos spy Robert Moore also targeted top people at the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) and its International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). WHO has maintained – contrary to frequent claims from asbestos lobbyists, who claim its expensively concocted asbestos ‘safety in use’ approach is supported by the agency – for over a decade that the only sure way to end the asbestos disease pandemic is to stop its use entirely.

And K2 client Nurlan Omarov, has been a visible lobbyist on the international stage for many years. The Kazakh industry lobbyist and representative of the massive Kostanai asbestos mine has been a repeat member of industry delegations that campaigned successfully to keep chrysotile off the UN’s Rotterdam Convention list of the extremely hazardous substances that require a ‘prior informed consent’ process prior to export.

But someone has to pay the price. Latest statistics suggest that global asbestos mortality could now exceed 300,000 deaths each year. These aren’t ‘good’ deaths. Asbestos deaths are frequently slow and cruel, bodies wracked with pain, choked and suffocated.  They are the true cost of asbestos.

Work cancers cost Europe hundreds of billions a year

Work-related cancers costs between €270 and €610 billion (£240bn to £543bn) a year across the EU, the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) has said.

The trade union health and safety thinktank says occupational cancers are the primary cause of work-related deaths in industrialised societies, with more than 100,000 people losing their lives each year as a result of exposure to workplace carcinogens.

A new book from ETUI, Cancer and work, calculates the human and financial cost of occupational cancers and spells out the steps needed to prevent them. “These cancers are morally unacceptable, as they could easily have been avoided through adequate prevention measures,” said Laurent Vogel, senior researcher at the ETUI and co-editor of the book.

ETUI chemicals specialist Tony Musu, the book’s co-editor, added: “They are also unfair. Exposure to carcinogens at work are the cause of major social inequalities in health in Europe, as in the rest of the world.

Labourers or nurses are much more likely to contract an occupational cancer than engineers or bankers. Indeed, a socio-occupational map can be drawn for the different types of cancer, tracing them back to these social inequalities.”

The problem is not treated with the necessary seriousness, ETUI warns. It says when comparing the research budgets assigned to studying genetic factors and occupational factors, the former has considerable resources allocated to it while the latter has to make do with ‘peanuts’.

 

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Canadian border agents at risk of cancer

Workers guarding the Canada-US border are at a higher risk of developing cancer, according to researchers.

Their report, published online in the peer-reviewed journal New Solutions in November 2018, examined evidence from a workers’ compensation case involving a female border guard who worked for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) on the Ambassador Bridge for 20 years before developing breast cancer.

Both authors of the paper, Jim Brophy and Michael Gilbertson, were expert witnesses in the case. The Ambassador Bridge “is the largest truck-crossing point in the continent… It’s one of the most polluted areas in the country,” said Brophy, a Windsor, Ontario based occupational health expert.

He said the exposure to harmful chemicals like diesel fuel and vehicle exhaust is extremely dangerous for border agents and added many are also exposed to second-hand smoke.

He added the number of border guards who have developed cancer over time isn’t clearly defined, but said that piece of data is something the union Public Service Alliance of Canada is calling for. “Maybe as many as 20 or 30. We don’t know exactly how many. That’s one of the major issues that are facing both the people at the bridge and at the tunnel — and the union,” he said.

Though there’s a “strong scientific case for a causal relationship between occupational exposures of frontline female border guards” and the development of cancer, the report says, the CBSA officer still lost her compensation claim.

Brophy said that’s the result of compensation cases being handled like criminal matters, in which claims are denied if there are any doubts that an employee’s environment resulted in cancer. He said he believes the evidence “points toward the direction that there is an association between these exposures and the risks for this disease.”

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Relief at Canada’s asbestos ban, dismay at exemptions

A nationwide ban on asbestos introduced in Canada has been welcomed by unions and campaigners, however loopholes that allow some asbestos exports and the exploitation of asbestos tailings have caused alarm.

Commenting on the ban, which will come into force on 30 December 2018, Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) president Hassan Yussuff said: “We can all breathe easier. The introduction of these regulations in a timely manner is the result of years of advocacy and hard work by people dedicated to safer, healthier workplaces.

“Today, I celebrate and thank the government for giving the next generation of Canadians a better future, free from the pain and suffering caused by asbestos.”

He added: “We look forward to continuing to work with the federal government on the broader whole-of-government strategy to protect Canadians from the harms of asbestos.”

However, federal environment minister Catherine McKenna faced criticism in parliament on export loopholes and the decision to exempt the processing of asbestos wastes from the ban, in order to recover magnesium. She responded that the ban was “comprehensive” and added: “There is no impact on human health.”

Critics say this is not true. They point out the occupational exposure standard for asbestos to be used on an Alliance Magnesium (AMI) asbestos wastes project, to be run with financial backing from the federal government, is that favoured by the asbestos industry. It allows workers to be exposed to levels of asbestos ten times greater than is permitted anywhere else in Canada or in the western world.

Exposures at even these lower levels are linked to cancer. Internationally acclaimed anti-asbestos campaigner Kathleen Ruff said the government had “succumbed to vested interests,” adding: “I would give them huge credit for finally moving to ban asbestos…  But I’m troubled by the fact that there are these weaknesses and gaps and, if anything, they seem to have gotten worse.”

The asbestos wastes project has also received multimillion-dollar financial backing from the provincial government in Quebec. Both the federal and Quebec governments previously supported the province’s asbestos industry.

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Europe sets new ‘compromise’ standard for diesel exhaust fumes at work

The Europe-wide trade union body ETUC has welcomed a new diesel exhaust fumes exposure standard. It says 3.6 million workers in the EU are at risk of exposures, adding the new European occupational exposure limit will prevent at least 6,000 deaths per year from lung cancer.

Esther Lynch, ETUC’s confederal secretary, said the new standard was in response to a major awareness and lobbying effort by workers and their trade unions. “Exposure to diesel exhaust is a significant workplace killer. Unfortunately many employers see diesel exposure as being something they can do nothing about. This is not the case and unions will work with employers to ensure that these legally binding limits are complied with,” she said.

The compromise agreed on diesel engines exhaust emission (DEEE) means exposures will be subject to the more stringent requirements of the carcinogens and mutagens directive. A binding occupational exposure limit (BOEL) will be set at 0.05 mg/m³, with a transition period of two years for most jobs and an additional five years for underground mining and tunnel construction.

ETUC’s Esther Lynch said “the compromise is a victory for the European trade union movement. It is a step forward in our long-standing and on-going battle for eliminating work-related cancers but existing EU legislation still needs many improvements. One of the important challenges is to include reprotoxic substances. We urge the Commission to propose a legislative initiative in 2019”.

In 2017, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits (SCOEL) recommended a much more stringent diesel exhaust standard of 0.02mg/m3.

Breast cancer risk in women working nights confirmed by new study

Women who work at night, especially during pre-menopause, may be at greater risk of developing breast cancer, a new study has found. The study comes two years after an Oxford University study claiming there was no association was rebutted and dismissed as ‘bad science’ by work and breast cancer experts.

The new analysis of surveys in Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Spain looked at nearly 6,100 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 7,000 who had no diagnosis. Participants answered self-administered questionnaires or telephone interviews about their occupation and about risk factors for breast cancer.

The findings, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, revealed the rates of certain breast cancers increased with the number of hours worked per night, as well as the number of years spent on the night shift. However, the risk seemed to diminish two years after going off the night shift.

“Women who work at least three hours between midnight and 5am run a 12 per cent greater risk of developing breast cancer than women who have never worked at night,” said study co-author Anne Grundy, a research associate at the University of Montréal’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine. “Among pre-menopausal women, the risk associated with working at night increases to 26 per cent.”

Night workers who work shifts longer than 10 hours have a 36 per cent increased risk of breast cancer, again compared to women who have never worked nights. The risk is as high as 80 per cent among women who work night shifts in excess of 10 hours for more than three nights per week.

“Women who were still working nights at the time of the study had a breast cancer risk that was 26 per cent higher than those who had stopped working at night at least two years previously,” said Grundy. “We need to go further in our research so that labour policies ultimately take into account this risk for women, and so that companies take preventive action and adjust work schedules.”

Scientists hid Monsanto’s involvement in their ‘independent’ research

An academic journal has conceded that agrochemicals giant Monsanto didn’t fully disclose its involvement in published research that claimed Roundup, the world’s best selling herbicide, is safe. The ‘Expression of Concern’ issued by Critical Reviews in Toxicology, a journal that analyses health risks of chemicals, may bolster arguments that Monsanto, acquired by Bayer this year, ghost-wrote safety reviews.

Monsanto has defended the independence of the 2016 review of glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient. However, on 26 September 2018 the publisher of Critical Reviews in Toxicology said it was issuing the Expression of Concern about four papers published in a 2016 supplement because the authors “have been unable to provide an adequate explanation to why the required level of transparency was not met on first submission.”

Bayer faces litigation by more than 9,500 plaintiffs in the US, mostly farmers, who blame exposure to glyphosate for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), with an NHL cancer court settlement to a former school groundsman this year spurring renewed calls for a ban.

An assessment determining there was a ‘probable’ cancer association, published in a 20 March 2015 Lancet Oncology paper prepared by an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) working group, had already led to an industry backlash. Some consider the four Critical Reviews in Toxicology papers first published online in September 2016 were intended to be part of Monsanto’s armoury in a glyphosate product defence campaign that has also seen threats to IARC’s funding.

The industry attack prompted a January 2018 rebuttal from IARC’s director, running to 10 pages, saying the criticism  of the agency was motivated by  “major financial interests” and lambasting the “unprecedented, coordinated efforts to undermine the evaluation, the program and the organization.” It added: “The attacks have largely originated from the agro-chemical industry and associated media outlets.”

One of the papers subject to the Expression of Concern spelled out the scientists’ contention that “the data do not support IARC’s conclusion that glyphosate is a ‘probable human carcinogen’ and, consistent with previous regulatory assessments, further concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans.”

However, the journal’s expression of concern came after it was revealed the initial disclosure statement made by the authors indicated Monsanto’s involvement was limited to paying a consulting firm to develop the journal supplement entitled ‘An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate.’ It declared that no Monsanto employees or attorneys reviewed the manuscripts submitted to the journal.

In fact, the company had been heavily involved in preparation of the papers. Internal emails filed in litigation revealed that Monsanto scientists played a significant role in organising, reviewing and editing article drafts. Elaine Devine, a spokesperson for Critical Reviews in Toxicology, said the Expression of Concern “will remain on the scholarly record.”

A co-author of two of the four criticised studies, Douglas L Weed, has previously rallied to the defence of the petrochemicals industry, after research linked low level exposures to benzene to Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, the same cancer now linked to glyphosate . Weed was criticised for failing to make clear that CONservation of Clean Air and Water in Europe (Concawe), which provided financial support for his paper, is a research and lobbying organisation wholly financed by oil refinery companies.

This is not the first time Critical Reviews in Toxicology’s conflict of interest processes have been questioned. The authors of a 2013 paper claiming chrysotile asbestos presents a low risk to health  failed to acknowledge their study was bankrolled by the global asbestos industry. Lab rats, a 2013 investigation by Hazards magazine, said this paper provided the asbestos industry with “an opportunity for another product defence road trip.”

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Texas firefighters with cancer often denied compensation

Many cities in the state of Texas, USA, are denying workers’ compensation to firefighters with cancer, according to union leaders and state lawmakers.

Over the past six years, more than 90 per cent of the 117 workers’ compensation claims filed by Texas firefighters with cancer have been denied, according to the Texas Department of Insurance.

Cities are ignoring a 2005 Texas law requiring the state government to presume that firefighters’ cancers are caused by exposure to carcinogens on the job, union officials told the Houston Chronicle.

“The sky-high denial rate of cancer is the first problem,” said Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association. “Firefighters with denied claims often have fewer treatment options and face the risk of financial ruin because of lost income.” All seven of the association’s members who filed workers’ compensation claims since 2016 have been denied, the union said.

Firefighters have said that cities use a memo by the Texas Intergovernmental Risk Pool to dodge the presumptive cancer law. The memo only presumes three types of cancer are caused by firefighting: testicular, prostate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Union leaders have said that the memo and the risk pool ignore substantial research linking firefighting to other forms of cancer. Firefighters are much more likely to win benefits on appeal, with nearly 65 per cent of cases winning workers’ compensation appeals over the past six years. But less than one-fifth of firefighters disputed their denied claims.

Firefighters risk being sued by the cities that employ them, and often it’s too daunting a task to battle in court while battling cancer.

Legislators based the Texas law not on the “conclusive presumption” that the cancers are caused by the job, which cannot be rebutted, but on “rebuttable presumption,” which can be. In the latter case, employers or their insurers might point to smoking or family history of cancer, for example, in an attempt to deny workers’ compensation.

UK prof defends WHO cancer agency against industry attack

A leading UK professor has defended a major World Health Organisation (WHO) agency that has been ‘vilified’ by industry lobbyists after it determined the pesticide glyphosate to be ‘probably carcinogenic’ to humans.

In an expert opinion on the well-resourced, high level industry attack on the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Neil Pearce, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), said: “Disappointingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, this controversy has led to attacks not only on the IARC decision, but also on some of those involved in the IARC Monograph meeting which made the decision, and on IARC itself.

“These events are not happening in a vacuum. There have been attacks on previous IARC decisions on potential causes of cancer such as formaldehyde, diesel fumes and radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. More ominously, there are moves by some governments to threaten to cut the funding of IARC, in response to these recent ‘inconvenient’ decisions.”

The professor added: “We all look up to IARC and see it as a beacon of independence and objectivity in a world which is becoming increasingly partisan and polarised, and in which scientific evidence is increasingly disparaged and ignored. Facts matter, science matters, and in this field, there is no other agency which even comes close to IARC in terms of independence, objectivity, and transparency.

“A few of the myths about IARC that are currently being propagated include ‘IARC finds that everything causes cancer’, ‘IARC does no research, it only has opinions’ and ‘IARC has been found to be corrupted’ – I could go on. The facts are that IARC is under attack because it is objective, effective, and sometimes produces inconvenient findings.”

He said a detailed review 2015 of the agency’s approach on which he was a co-author found “IARC processes are sound, and that recent industry-funded criticisms have been unfair and unconstructive.” He concluded we “need independent scientific bodies such as IARC which can review the scientific evidence objectively, and without conflicts of interest, even if this leads to conclusions that some may find inconvenient.”

A continually-updated, annotated bibliography of occupational cancer research produced by Hazards magazine, the Alliance for Cancer Prevention and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).