Major study confirms wood dust link to lung cancer

Occupational exposure to wood dust causes an increase of over 40 per cent in the risk of developing lung cancer, a major study has found.

Researchers from Spanish universities and health institutes evaluated eleven studies with a total of 2,368 small cell lung cancer (SCLC) cases and 357,179 controls.

The systematic review and meta-analysis of the scientific literature summarized and analysed the risks of wood dust-related occupations on development of SCLC, taking tobacco use into account.

It found overall, exposure to wood dust “significantly increases” the risk of SCLC, with the studies showing the effect consistently. It determined there was a 41 per cent higher relative rate of this type of lung cancer in workers occupationally exposed to wood dust.

The study concluded: “The results of this study support that exposure to wood dust can increase the risk of developing small cell lung cancer. Determining the impact of occupational exposure on workers is essential to improve their individual protection and prevention.”

It added: “There is a strong case for recommending the implementation of control measures to reduce occupational exposure to wood dust, specifically for highly exposed occupations such as carpenters and sawmills, in order to prevent small cell lung cancer.”

Curiel-García, T., Candal-Pedreira, C., Varela-Lema, L. et al. Wood dust exposure and small cell lung cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol (2023).




Health workers need better radiation protection

Women working in healthcare who are regularly exposed to radiation from x-rays and other imaging procedures need better protection to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.

An editorial in the journal BMJ notes that ionising radiation is a known human carcinogen and breast tissue is highly radiation sensitive – however, current radiation PPE provides inadequate protection for breast tissue as it leaves exposed the area close to the armpit (known as the upper outer quadrant and axilla – the most common site of breast cancer).

Isobel Pilkington and others. Editorial: Protecting female healthworkers from ionising radiation at work, BMJ, 12 April 2023;381:e075406 19 April 2023

Cancer risks in healthcare workers, ETUI webinar, 12 October 2022

In the healthcare sector, 12.7 million workers across the EU are potentially exposed to Hazardous Medicinal Products (HMPs).
These can also pose health risks to nurses, pharmacists, cleaners and other exposed workers.

The Europe-wide trade union research institute ETUI has identified 121 HMPs commonly used in the healthcare sector which can cause cancer or reproductive disorders in professionals exposed to them.

ETUI, which has produced a new report on the topic, is hosting a one-hour webinar on 12 October, with presentations from key experts and a Q&A session.

Britain: FBU cancer decontamination campaign wins top TUC award

The UK firefighters’ union FBU’s DECON cancer prevention campaign has won a top prize at the TUC communications awards.

The union snagged first place for best membership communication project for the DECON campaign, which aims to reduce the impact of fire contaminants on firefighters’ health, by providing firefighters with practical training around PPE, washing and decontamination protocols.

FBU news release.

Stricter silica rules in Australia will save lives and money

Preventing just five deaths a year in Australia caused by exposure to respirable silica would cover all the costs of far stricter controls on the cancer and lung disease-causing dust.

Curtin University occupational cancer researchers Renee Carey and Lin Fritschi warn that that without this action, Australian workers over a working lifetime will develop more than 10,000 future lung cancers, or a ‘future excess fraction’ of around 1 per cent of all the lung cancers in the Australian adult population.

Preventable exposures would also result in more than 80,000 cases of the often deadly lung scarring disease silicosis.

Stopping workers from entering areas near crushers on mine sites would prevent 750 lung cancers and almost 7,500 silicosis cases, they note. They added banning engineered stone could save up to 700 young workers from developing these diseases.

The future burden of lung cancer and silicosis from occupational silica exposure in Australia: A preliminary analysis. Curtin University report commissioned by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), 2022. The Conversation.

Asbestos cancer deaths in Great Britain stay high

Deaths linked to just one asbestos cancer are remaining around the high mark of over 2,500 cases each year, despite Health and Safety Executive (HSE) predictions that a sharp decline would start years ago.

The new figures show that 2,544 people died from the disease in 2020. This was 6 per cent higher than the 2,404 deaths in 2019.

It is broadly in line with the 2,523 average annual mesothelioma deaths figure over the eight year period from 2012 to 2019. The 2020 figure is the highest since the all-time high of 2,606 mesothelioma deaths was reported in 2016.

In the wake of the report’s publication, the Health and Safet4y Executive announced schools in England, Scotland and Wales are to be subject to an inspection programme, looking at how they are managing the risks of asbestos, starting in the new academic year.

The visits will be carried out by HSE inspectors. The regulator said its inspectors would contact the school beforehand to arrange a suitable date and time for the inspection.

The HSE mesothelioma statistics report acknowledged for the first time there is evidence of higher rates of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma in teachers, noting “proportional mortality ratios are somewhat higher for teachers and administrative occupations than those for nurses, sales occupations and process operatives, and this may suggest the potential for asbestos exposure during work time was somewhat higher in these jobs…”

Mesothelioma statistics for Great Britain, HSE, 6 July 2022. TES magazine.

Work exposures as a firefighter cause cancer – official

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has declared that occupational exposures as a firefighter a preventable cause of human cancer.

As its findings were published online in the journal Lancet Oncology, a working group of the World Health Organisation (WHO) agency announced: “After thoroughly reviewing the available scientific literature, the Working Group classified occupational exposure as a firefighter as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), on the basis of sufficient evidence for cancer in humans.”

Welcoming the decision, Riccardo la Torre of the UK firefighters’ union FBU said: “This classification should be a huge wake-up call for both the government and fire and rescue services. government now need to urgently acknowledge that cancer is an occupational hazard within firefighting.”

He added: “They also need to be pushing ahead with urgent improvements to protect firefighters from fire contaminants by utilising the union’s ground-breaking training. We also recognise that this news will be worrying for firefighters and want to reassure all of our members that the union will fight to protect your safety at work.”

The FBU national officer said: “No one should get ill from going to work, and firefighters deserve to go home at the end of their shift as safely and healthily as they begun it.

“The FBU will continue its work in this area to protect firefighters, but we have already consistently been warning the National Fire Chiefs Council, Fire Service Employers and Ministers of this risk and so far have seen very little action from most of them. It’s now time to sit up, listen and act to protect firefighters from this life threatening occupational hazard.

“DECON interim best practice report researcher Professor Anna Stec is a member of the IARC committee and the FBU can be proud of the role our research played in this decision.”

Firefighting was last classified by IARC in 2010 as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B).


UN bodies rebut asbestos pusher’s safety claims

The UN bodies responsible for global labour and health rights have rebutted statements by the global asbestos industry lobby that they “support” the continued use of chrysotile, the last remaining commercially traded asbestos fibre.

The damning responses from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) came after the International Chrysotile Association (ICA) claimed both WHO and ILO policies are pro-asbestos. “As far as this policy remains… it should contribute to support the pro-chrysotile parties,” an ICA briefing notes.

In a statement to Hazards, WHO responded: “The World Health Organisation reiterates its policy, which remains unchanged, that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to the stop the use of all types of asbestos.”

In an ILO statement responding to the ICA campaign, the UN labour rights body reiterated its long held position that “calls for the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place as the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposure and to prevent future asbestos-related diseases and deaths.”

The ICA briefing was distribution at the June 2022 Rotterdam Convention meeting, where an official proposal to put right to know ‘prior informed consent’ requirements on chrysotile was again vetoed by just six  pro-asbestos governments.

The ICA’s Rotterdam Convention briefing document argues without foundation that its pro-asbestos position is consistent with WHO and ILO policies. It notes: “As far as this policy remains… it should contribute to support the pro-chrysotile parties”.

ICA is opposed to a Right to Know (prior informed consent) requirement on chrysotile asbestos exports, despite this being the repeat recommendation of the Rotterdam Convention’s Chemical Review Committee (CRC).

In response, the ICA questions the impartiality and “credibility” of the CRC, implying it may have been unduly influenced by third parties. In display text, it notes: “The CRC should never allow itself to be influenced by third parties its deliberations.”

The ICA briefing document includes criminally dangerous claims of “no observable health effects… with low level exposure.”

This point is both patently untrue and deliberately deceitful, and is rebutted explicitly by WHO, which notes: “No threshold for adverse effects has been identified, and therefore it is not possible to establish safe levels of exposure.”

WHO also points out that in developing countries, which are now the target of ICA’s asbestos export promotional activities, awareness of the risks and potential for preventive action may be limited, and related cancers may be missed or misattributed.

Worldwide, many of the exposures responsible for asbestos related deaths today occur from unwitting and largely uncontrolled exposures during DIY, construction and maintenance activities, as opposed to during primary production.

Countries with asbestos bans in place for two decades are still seeing record or near record levels of asbestos related cancers, caused almost entirely by asbestos in situ.

WHO position on chrysotile asbestos. ICA website and ICA Summary for Decision-Makers.

Europe’s firefighters discuss work cancer response

The UK Fire Brigades Union’s pioneering DECON project has been showcased at a meeting of the European Public Service Union (EPSU) Firefighters’ Network.

Riccardo la Torre, FBU national officer, said: “DECON is here to stay in the UK fire and rescue service. It’s got the entire sector speaking about the risk posed, and now firefighters from across Europe are keen to learn from each other.”

He added: “This meeting was also a huge opportunity for us to listen and discuss these issues, and we look forward to getting back to the UK and working with fire and rescue services to make progress on DECON and saving firefighters from early, needless deaths.

“Neither the bosses or the government have done this domestically, it’s been down to FBU members and the Firefighters 100 Lottery to carry out this life-saving work.”

Two discussion sessions took place, both focused on “Cancer as a professional disease for firefighters, impact of fire effluents and decontamination”.

The FBU is also calling for preventive health screening for firefighters and presumptive legislation recognising cancer as an occupational disease, to help protect firefighters and their families further from this occupational hazard.


FBU expands work on fire contaminant risks

UK firefighters’ union FBU is to expand its work on the health impact of fire contaminants – toxic substances produced by fires – on firefighters. The move comes after ongoing FBU-commissioned research by the University of Central Lancashire highlighted elevated cancer risks in UK firefighters.

At its May 2022 annual conference, FBU agreed to fight for its DECON best practice training and prevention programme to be expanded throughout the fire service, including via national guidance, contaminants monitoring, cancer screening and fire station design principles.

The union also voted to expand the research to take into account reports that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), found in firefighting foams and some protective equipment, are hazardous to health.

FBU national officer Riccardo la Torre told the union’s conference: “It’s overwhelming to see how much conference, our members, our health and safety reps and our reps in branches have taken on this campaign.”

He added: “We can be the DECON generation. Remember the dead, and fight for the living – that’s exactly what this fight is.”


A continually-updated, annotated bibliography of occupational cancer research produced by Hazards magazine, the Alliance for Cancer Prevention and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).