Australian study links diesel exhaust to high lung cancer rates in miners

Diesel exhaust exposures are leading to high rates of fatal lung cancers in underground miners, according to a new study.
Researchers from Australia and the Netherlands found underground production workers, including diesel loader operators and shotcreters, face the highest risk. They called for strict controls to limit their exposure.

The study, published online in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, marks the first phase of an investigation into conditions in Australian mines. Using Department of Mines and Petroleum data from 2003 to 2015 and other studies, it modelled the average levels of exposure among employees in a range of occupations on Western Australian mine sites. It then estimated the number of lung cancer deaths caused by those levels with stark results.

“If somebody were to be exposed as an underground miner, we saw that that person would be exposed to on average 44 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3),” said lead investigator Dr Susan Peters from the University of Western Australia.

At this exposure level over a 45-year working lifetime, compared to the general population the miners would have 38 extra lung cancer deaths per 1,000 males. Above-ground mine workers were found to face a lower but still elevated risk, with an average exposure of 14 µg/m3 over 45 years causing about 5.5 additional lung cancer deaths per 1,000 workers.

The paper concludes “exposure levels in the contemporary Australian mining industry are still substantial, particularly for underground workers. The estimated excess numbers of lung cancer deaths associated with these exposures support the need for implementation of stringent occupational exposure limits for diesel exhaust.”

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified diesel exhaust as a  top rated ‘Group 1’ human carcinogen in 2012.


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