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.”
- Dana Loomis, Neela Guha, Amy L Hall and Kurt Straif. Review: Identifying occupational carcinogens: an update from the IARC Monographs, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Online First, 16 May 2018.