Toxic diesel fumes emitted by trains at a UK rail depot could be linked to a number of staff members developing cancer in recent years, the union Unite has warned. The transport union said three staff members at the Neville Hill rail depot in Leeds have developed cancers of the throat, with a fourth being diagnosed with throat and lung cancer.
A further four staff members also developed cancers of the lung, mouth, bowel and kidney respectively. Two of the eight staff members affected have died from the disease. All of the cancers have been diagnosed within a six-year period, with four staff members being diagnosed within the last two years. Nearly of all of the staff have worked at the depot for more than a decade and four of the staff are making legal claims.
Unite said the troubling instances of cancer at the site were revealed as a ‘shocking’ video filmed in late December 2019 emerged of a train spewing a ‘toxic fog’ of diesel emissions into the depot – an occurrence workers at Neville Hill report happens regularly.
The World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified diesel engine exhaust emissions as a class one carcinogenic agent in 2012, putting the fumes in the same cancer-causing category as asbestos and tobacco. IARC said diesel emissions can cause lung cancer and said there was also a ‘positive association’ with bladder cancer.
Unite said it is raising its concerns with Network Rail, which owns the depot and East Midlands Rail, which runs and employs staff at the depot, and is calling on them to take ‘decisive action’ to stop workers being exposed to diesel emissions. Unite regional officer Kevin Hepworth said: “The video captures just how this cancer-causing toxic fog fills the depot that staff are expected to work in. Unite believes that the carcinogenic diesel emissions that our members at Neville Hill have been surrounded by day-in day-out, often for years at a time, could be linked to cancer rates at the depot.”
Unite national officer for health and safety Rob Miguel said: “Sadly the problem with diesel emissions at Neville Hill is just the tip of the iceberg. Exposure to diesel emissions is common across all sectors in which staff work in enclosed environments where engines are running. Inadequate controls such as archaic outdated ventilation systems, mean the health of countless workers is being put at serious risk.”
Unite runs a diesel exhaust emissions register, where members can log their exposures. The union says the register can assist its prevention efforts and provide evidence to support compensation claims where workers go on to develop diesel exhaust fume related ill-health.
Diesel exhaust fumes contain a mix of potent poisons linked to lung and bladder cancer, potentially fatal heart problems including heart attack and stroke, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema (the chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases or COPD) and other chronic harm including cognitive’ impairment, or brain damage.
- IARC Monographs – volume 105, Diesel and gasoline engine exhausts and some nitroarenes, 2012.
- Diesel exhaust in the workplace: A TUC guide for trade union activists, October 2018.
- ITUC/Hazards work cancer hazards map, 2019.