Work cancer risks are being neglected, IARC experts warn

Occupational cancer is a big killer, but studies to assess the risks to workers from tens of thousands of chemicals at work are either inadequate or just have not been done, top experts have warned.

Scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) note the “recognition of occupational carcinogens is important for primary prevention, compensation and surveillance of exposed workers, as well as identifying causes of cancer in the general population.”  Occupational exposure to carcinogens is a major cause of death and disability worldwide, with an estimated occurrence of 666,000 fatal work-related cancers annually, they indicate.

Writing in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, they say their review found the number of known, top ranked ‘group 1’ “occupational carcinogens has increased over time: 47 agents were identified as known occupational carcinogens in 2017 compared with 28 in 2004. These estimates are conservative and likely underestimate the number of carcinogenic agents present in workplaces.”

They add: “The number of carcinogens in the workplace may be substantially larger for additional reasons. New substances are introduced into workplace and environmental settings faster than information on potential health effects can be generated. For example, over 80,000 chemicals are currently registered for use in the USA alone, but only a small fraction have ever been evaluated for carcinogenicity.”

Even where IARC has investigated a substance, the risks to workers has rarely been properly considered.

The IARC experts conclude: “Despite notable progress, there continues to be a need for research on the causes of work-related cancer. Epidemiologic evidence is inadequate or entirely lacking for the majority of the over 1,000 agents evaluated by IARC; many more agents present in workplaces have never been evaluated for carcinogenicity. There is also a need to identify the numbers of exposed workers by geographic location and to produce quantitative exposure data as a basis for hazard identification, exposure-response estimation and risk assessment.”

2 thoughts on “Work cancer risks are being neglected, IARC experts warn”

  1. I have been a welder for over 40 years with approx. 120,000 hours of welding fume toxic carcinogen exposures, 2 years ago I had my upper right lung lobe removed do to lung cancer, I am dismayed and disappointed that the thoracic surgeon, worksafebc and my employer catalyst paper powell river bc division has for the last 2 years and ongoing sent me back in to inhale more toxic carcinogens of cadmium, nickel, chromium, arsenic and carbon monoxide among other chemicals, vapors, gases and other airborne particulate in the paper mill workplace. I find it hard that this is happening to me and worksafebc denied my claim of the cancer being most likely from the welding fumes as there no other possible exposures than in the workplace. I find it hard to image that they must think that continued exposures won’t cause lung cancer re-occurrence, my breathing and cardiovascular health is deteriorating and I am needing to use two inhalers, flovent and ventolin to keep functioning and working. I have an appeal case on the go through WCAT in BC Canada, an IHP indenpdent health practitioner has disagreed with Worksafebc’s findings and has supported the claim that the welding fumes are the most likely cause of the lung cancer. I am currently continuing to be exposed to toxic carcinogenic welding fumes. thanks for all your work and efforts in trying to get workplace cancers recognized, from Jerome Desilets

    1. Hi Jerome. There is clear evidence associating weldiing fume with, particularly, lung cancer. It sounds unbelievable they turned down your claim. This is particularly the case if you are welding stainless steel or special steels (which sounds the case from the list of exposures). Was the decision based purely on the absence of exposure evidence? Whatever, it is hard to believe they could possibly have justified this. Do you have a union or injured workers’ group supporting you at your compensation hearings? For firefighters, where the evidence is no more strong, they would have presumed the cancer to be work-related. I guess you’ve searched our site for ‘welding’? Will give you some of the recent scientific evidence to back up your claim. Best wishes, Rory

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