Stricter European Union diesel exhaust rules would save many lives

A substantial number of lives would be saved each year by implementing a stringent workplace diesel engine exhaust exposure limit, a study has concluded.

Risk assessment experts from Utrecht University calculated the expected impact of the incoming European Union regulatory limit for occupational diesel engine exhaust (DEE) exposure on the excess burden of lung cancer in Europe.

In their paper in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, they note: “We evaluated the effects of intervention on DEE exposures according to a health based limit (1 µg/m3 of elemental carbon (EC)) and both Dutch (10 µg/m3) and European (50  µg/m3) proposed regulatory limit values. Results were expressed as individual excess lifetime risks (ELR).”

They conclude implementing the proposed health based DEE limit would reduce the ELR by approximately 93 per cent, while the proposed regulatory limits of 10 and 50  µg/m3 would reduce the ELR by 51 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively.

The authors conclude: “Although the proposed regulatory limits are expected to reduce the number of DEE related LC deaths, the residual ELRs are still significantly higher than the targets used for deriving health-based risk limits. The number of additional cases of lung cancer in Europe due to DEE exposure, therefore, remains significant.”

Exposure to diesel exhaust fumes is also associated with other cancers, respiratory disease, heart problems and other chronic and acute health effects, so the total ELR stemming from the new exposure standard would be substantial higher.

Roel Vermeulen and Lützen Portengen. How serious are we about protecting workers health? The case of diesel engine exhaust,  Occupational and Environmental Medicine Published Online First: 11 February 2022. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2021-107752

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