Three pesticides that have been heavily used in both agricultural and non-agricultural applications have been linked to cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluated the carcinogenicity of the insecticides lindane and DDT and the herbicide 2,4-D. An IARC working group of 26 experts from 13 countries classified the insecticide lindane as carcinogenic to humans, giving it the highest Group 1 risk rating.
The experts, who published their findings online on 22 June 2015 in The Lancet Oncology, concluded there was sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of lindane for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). The IARC group noted that large epidemiological studies of agricultural exposures in the USA and Canada showed a 60 per cent increased risk of NHL in those exposed to lindane.
The insecticide DDT was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), based on sufficient evidence that DDT causes cancer in experimental animals and limited evidence of its carcinogenicity in humans. Epidemiological studies found positive associations between exposure to DDT and NHL, testicular cancer, and liver cancer.
The herbicide 2,4-D was classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on inadequate evidence in humans and limited evidence in experimental animals.
Lindane – which was used in agriculture, wood preservatives, disinfectant ‘fog’ bombs, and lice and scabies treatments – and DDT are no longer approved for use in the UK. However, workers with historic exposures may still be at risk of developing related cancers. And DDT is still used in control of insect-borne diseases like malaria.
Use of the herbicide 2,4-D is still allowed in the UK. It has found favour with local authorities for weed control on pavements and in parks and other public areas.
Prolonged exposure to low doses of ionising radiation can cause cancer in nuclear workers, a study has found. Research coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which looked at the exposures of over 300,000 nuclear workers in the UK, France and the US, found that protracted exposure to low doses of ionising radiation can cause the blood cancer leukaemia.
The study, published online on 21 June in The Lancet Haematology, shows that the risk of death from leukaemia increases linearly with the radiation dose. “To date, this study provides the most precise evaluation of the risk of developing leukaemia linked to the protracted low doses of radiation received by nuclear workers throughout their careers,” commented IARC researcher Dr Ausrele Kesminiene, a study co-author.
“It shows that the nuclear workers we studied have a small increase in the risk of dying from leukaemia as their exposure to radiation increases.”
The International Nuclear Workers Study (INWORKS) evaluated the exposures of more than 300,000 nuclear workers in France, the United Kingdom, and the USA between 1943 and 2005. The study assessed the risk of developing certain cancers, such as leukaemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. The study found there was “strong evidence” for a positive association between exposure to ionising radiation and risk of death from leukaemia.
Indicating the findings are grounds for a rethink about permissible exposure limits for ionising radiation, IARC director Dr Christopher Wild explained: “Current standards used for radiation protection remain primarily based on acute high-dose exposures, derived from studies based on atomic bomb survivors in Japan.”
Women exposed to low levels of common organic solvents at work are 20 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer, a new study suggests.
The study looked at 1,205 women diagnosed with primary breast cancer between 2009 and 2011 and who were on the Western Australian Cancer Registry. They were matched to 1,789 controls from the electoral roll. Exposure to solvents was determined through telephone interviews. About a third of the women were occupationally exposed to solvents.
“The risk of breast cancer was 20 per cent elevated for women exposed to aliphatic solvents or to aromatic hydrocarbons other than benzene. The risks were lower for those exposed to benzene and chlorinated solvents,” the paper, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, noted.
The authors added the risks, which were not statistically significant, “tended to be higher for breast cancer diagnosed before menopause than post-menopause, for those exposed to benzene, aliphatic and other aromatic solvents and chlorinated solvents.” They say the study suggests that there may be an association between occupational exposure to aliphatic and aromatic solvents and the risk of breast cancer at the low levels of exposure experienced by women in their study.
The authors note: “Our findings are consistent with previous reports of an elevated risk of breast cancer associated with occupations where exposure to solvents is likely.”
Workplace chemical exposures are the eighth leading cause of death in the US, but the country lacks any prevention strategy, an advocacy group has warned.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) said these exposures are responsible for more than 40,000 premature deaths each year. The group, unveiling a new worker right-to-know website, said occupational exposures kill malignantly, from cancer, neurological breakdown, cardiopulmonary disease, and other chronic maladies.
“More Americans die each year from workplace chemical exposure than from all highway accidents, yet we have no national effort to stem this silent occupational epidemic,” stated PEER executive director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that allowed chemical exposure on-the-job is roughly 1,000 times higher than in the general environment. “In the US, environmental protection stops at the factory door.”
PEER warns that these occupational risks may be on the rise as thousands of new chemicals are introduced in US workplaces each year. Yet scrutiny by the US workplace safety regulator OSHA is in slow decline, PEER notes. At its current rate of health inspections, it would take OSHA nearly 600 years to sample chemical exposures at half the nation’s industrial facilities that handle hazardous substances.
“Reversing this long lethal trend requires a national commitment to ‘green’ the American workplace,” said Ruch. “Above all, OSHA needs to rediscover its ‘H’ by taking affirmative steps to sharply reduce the slow poisoning of American workers.”
PEER worker right-to-know chemical exposure database.
Governments backing the asbestos industry have derailed attempts to require mandatory warnings on all its cancer-causing exports.
Russia and Kazakhstan – the world’s biggest asbestos exporters – headed a group of just four governments that refused to allow chrysotile asbestos to be put on the Rotterdam Convention’s list of hazardous substances for which ‘prior informed consent’ is required by importers. These two asbestos exporters were joined by Zimbabwe – which wants to re-open its mothballed asbestos mines – and Russia’s ally, Kyrgyzstan.
The group of four blocked the recommendation of the scientific committee to the United Nation’s convention, and the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the 160-plus countries participating in the May conference assessing substances for inclusion on the list. The system requires a unanimous vote.
The International Chrysotile Association (ICA), the asbestos industry’s global lobby organisation, was jubilant. “For the fifth time, inclusion of chrysotile has not been agreed. It is historical and without precedent. The policy of controlled use promoted by ICA still is the responsible accepted approach,” an ICA statement said.
Prominent anti-asbestos campaign Kathleen Ruff retorted: “Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, the corrupt information and the immoral conduct of the tiny number of countries who are sabotaging the Convention in order to protect their asbestos profits was condemned by the overwhelming majority of countries attending the conference.”
UK union Unite, Australian unions AMWU and CFMEU, and global unions BWI and IndustriALL protested outside the United Nations building on 12 May, as the convention conference started. IndustriALL ran a two-week long publicity campaign on Geneva transport to remind conference participants and the wider public that asbestos is still in production and responsible for killing at least 100,000 people a year.
Less than 10 per cent of people diagnosed with occupational cancer in Australia get any compensation, a report has revealed.
Occupational Cancer Costs, a new review of workers’ compensation claims undertaken by Cancer Council Australia, found an average of 395 claims a year were made nationwide for work-related cancers, resulting in payouts of Aus$30 million (£15m), but that was a fraction of those who could possibly apply.
The council says a recent analysis suggests exposure to known cancer-causing agents at work such as dust, chemicals and diesel exhaust could cause up to 5,000 new cases a year in Australia. This meant more than 90 per cent of people diagnosed with a work-related cancer had not received compensation.
Report author Terry Slevin, chairman of Cancer Council Australia’s occupational and environmental cancers committee, said: “Workers who develop cancer because of workplace exposures should receive adequate compensation – but a much better approach for everyone is to ensure appropriate protection is in place to prevent the cancer. If they don’t act, employers and regulators will be sitting on a cancer time bomb.”
He added: “Australian businesses learnt their lesson the hard way when it came to the impact of asbestos and many Australians are still paying the price. We should be able to carry out a day’s work, and go about our working lives without putting themselves at risk of developing cancer. We also need to make sure those who are affected are properly compensated.”
The findings echo those in the UK, where hardly any non-asbestos cancers are compensated, and only a minority of even these asbestos cancers result in payouts. A TUC-backed report published in Hazards magazine in 2013, revealed for most occupational cancers the chances of getting any compensation is below 1 in 50.
UK union body TUC is calling for union safety reps to ensure workers are not exposed to a cancer-causing pesticide. A new briefing says because of the unquestionable risks posed by glyphosate, which can also cause short- and long-term skin, eye and respiratory problems and serious liver and kidney damage, it is “necessary to try to prevent any workers coming into contact with glyphosate.”
The TUC briefing comes in the wake of a March 2015 report in the journal Lancet Oncology, which revealed the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) new classification of glyphosate – the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and the world’s most widely-used herbicide – as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
IARC, a part of the World Health Organisation (WHO), cites evidence in Canada, Sweden and the USA linking workers’ occupational exposure to glyphosate to increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The report led to calls from the global food and farming union IUF to keep deadly pesticides out of the workplace and the food chain. The UK Alliance for Cancer Prevention said the use of glyphosate largely to kill off weeds in urban areas was not justified.
According to the TUC: “No workers should be put at risk of exposure to any substance that can lead to cancer. Many employers will not know about the risks from glyphosate, especially as the manufacturers still continue to insist there is no risk, despite the evidence.”
It adds: “Health and safety representatives should make sure they bring the information to their attention. Safety representatives must ensure that their employer reviews their risk assessments and share the results with them.” Safety reps have a right to see this information, the TUC said.
“Chrysotile asbestos is not magically different to other forms of asbestos and saying so doesn’t make is so” – Brian Kohler of the global union IndustriALL calling for an end to chrysotile asbestos use at a 12 May 2015 demonstration at thes Place des Nations in Geneva.
Kohler was critical of the UN’s Rotterdam Convention process, underway this week, which allows asbestos-supporting governments to veto listing of chrysotile under the convention’s ‘prior informed consent’ provisions.
Because of this, the industry doesn’t even have to own up that it is exporting one of the most potent human carcinogens ever encountered. Conservative estimates put the annual death toll from asbestos at in excess of 100,000 victims.
A global trade union campaign to stop the deadly trade in chrysotile asbestos is underway as the United Nations prepares to vote on whether to add the toxic mineral to a list of dangerous substances. Global union federation IndustriALL and its affiliate, the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU), are mounting pressure on countries preparing to vote on listing chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention at a UN conference in Geneva, Switzerland from 11 to 14 May.
The Convention lists other types of asbestos, but not chrysotile, which is just as deadly and the only type of asbestos still in commercial use. All forms of asbestos cause cancers and lung diseases such as asbestosis. The World Health Organisation estimates that 100,000 people a year die from exposure to asbestos.
A powerful advertising campaign on trams and buses running through the heart of Geneva is set to remind residents and conference visitors about the alarming dangers of asbestos. Beginning on 6 May, it will run for two weeks.
And yet 2 million tonnes of chrysotile asbestos are still traded every year without any international regulation. Although banned in 50 nations, in countries such as India and Indonesia, consumption is increasing. Major asbestos exporters – Russia, Brazil and Kazakhstan, as well as India, are set to veto restrictions on exporting chrysotile asbestos under the Convention.
Jyrki Raina, IndustriALL’s general secretary, said: “The sickening trade in asbestos has to end. All asbestos kills. These countries need to take responsibility and stop mining asbestos and stop using it.”
A number of trade union affiliates have responded to the call from IndustriALL and written to their governments, demanding that they support the listing of chrysotile under the Convention at the Geneva conference next week. IndustriALL has also been working with the Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI) global union in the campaign.
One in three people in Europe are at risk from asbestos exposures, with the deadly fibre claiming thousands of lives in the region each year, a United Nations (UN) report has warned. A high-level meeting on environment and health in Europe on 30 April appealed urgently to all European countries to eliminate asbestos-related diseases.
The report showed that one third of the 900 million people living in the region are potentially exposed to asbestos at work and in the environment. “We cannot afford losing almost 15,000 lives a year in Europe, especially workers, from diseases caused by exposure to asbestos,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, of the World Health Organisation’s Europe office. “Every death from asbestos-related diseases is avoidable,” added the UN agency’s regional director.
The report presented at the meeting indicated that asbestos is responsible for about half of all deaths from cancers developed at work. According to new estimates, deaths from mesothelioma in 15 European countries cost society more than 1.5 billion euros annually.
While 38 of the 53 member states in the region have banned the use of all forms of asbestos, the remaining 15 countries still use asbestos, especially for building materials, and some continue to produce and export it. Two of these producer nations, Russia and Kazakhstan, are spearheading efforts to resist further controls on asbestos trade. According to the WHO news release, even after its use has ceased, asbestos lingers in the environment, so it needs to be safely removed and disposed without delay.
* WHO guidelines on elimination of asbestos related diseases.