All posts by Rory O'Neill

‘Urgent’ action call on growing occupational cancer menace

Occupational cancer is the large cause of work-related deaths and the numbers affected are increasing, leading experts have warned.

A position paper authored by an international group of work cancer specialists, published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, notes “it is clear that occupational cancer now represents the primary cause for work-related deaths globally and in many regions of the world, and the numbers continue to grow. In spite of efforts for prevention and control by several international organisations, institutions and authorities, the level of occupational cancer mortality and morbidity has remained high.”

The paper cites recent estimates that indicated occupational cancer accounted for 27 per cent of the 2.4 million deaths due to work-related diseases. It notes: “In numerical terms, this estimate means that the number of deaths attributable to occupational cancer annually increased from 666,000 deaths in 2011 to 742,000 deaths in 2015. This increase could be explained by different variables such as the evidence on new carcinogens, the methods of estimation, changes in the industry distribution of workers and the growing and ageing of the population.”

The authors concluded that the need to define a global policy on occupational cancer prevention is an “urgent matter” requiring the “development of a priority action strategy to control and reduce occupational cancer as effectively as possible.”

Global trade union body ITUC has identified occupational cancer prevention as a priority issue, and has developed prevention guides and campaign materials.

Vested interests again protect deadly substances at UN meeting

Exports of deadly substances including chrysotile asbestos and a slew of pesticides will not require a health warning after a handful of governments defended them at a United Nations conference.

The substances were being considered for inclusion on the UN Rotterdam Convention’s ‘prior informed consent’ (PIC) list, which would require exporters to inform importers of the potential risks. Both chrysotile and paraquat had also been recommended for inclusion by UN officials on numerous previous occasions.

Commenting on the failure of the UN Conference of the Parties to list chrysotile despite the long-term support of the overwhelming majority of governments for the move, Phillip Hazelton of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN) said: “The long term blockage to listing chrysotile, the world’s biggest occupational disease killer, must end and it’s up to those countries who are as frustrated as we are, to do it. They must come forward with a viable solution to break the blockade on the listing of chrysotile asbestos.”

Pesticides Action Network Asia Pacific (PANAP) expressed deep concern at the failure of the conference to list four of the five highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) proposed for inclusion on the PIC list.

A small number of countries blocked the listing of paraquat (Guatemala, Indonesia, Chile), fenthion (Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda), acetochlor (Argentina, Chile), and carbosulfan (Kenya, India, Brazil).

“It is highly disappointing that some policymakers still chose to misinterpret the Convention and to ignore the body of evidence of the serious harm these pesticides cause to human health and the environment,” said Sarojeni Rengam, PANAP executive director.

“The incredibly slow pace with which pesticides are listed in the Rotterdam Convention – which doesn’t even constitute a ban, and only requires Prior Inform Consent in trade – show that existing mechanisms will not satisfactorily solve the problem of pesticides use.”

Governments agree to ban on cancer chemical

Firefighters’ unions have played a central role in a successful push to get a cancer-linked chemical banned under a United Nations treaty.

Governments at a Stockholm Treaty meeting in Geneva agreed to the global ban on PFOA/PFAS, fluorinated chemicals linked to cancer and reproductive harm that does not break down and causes adverse health effects at background levels.

Unions and environmental campaigners welcomed the ban, but criticised “unjustified” five-year exemptions for PFOA use in semiconductor manufacturing, firefighting foams, fire-resistant textiles claimed to protect workers, photographic coatings for films, and medical devices.

Additionally, China, the European Union and Iran obtained wide-ranging exemptions for fluorinated polymers, medical textiles, electrical wires, and plastic accessories for car interior parts.

“From a firefighter’s perspective, we know we have significantly raised PFAS levels in our blood,” said Commander Mick Tisbury of Australia’s United Firefighters Union (UFUA). “We feel we have a ticking time-bomb in our bodies; we do not know when it will explode or even if it will explode – we just want the bomb removed!”

Governments agreed special controls on PFOA-containing firefighting foams, prohibiting production, export or import and not permitting their use in training.

Before the meeting, industry fire experts and firefighters released a new report demonstrating that cost effective fluorine-free firefighting foams meeting regulatory standards and have been widely adopted by world-class airports and major companies.

“Governments should listen carefully to industry fire safety professionals and firefighters who actually put out fires and rapidly move to phase out fluorinated firefighting foams,” said Pamela Miller, co-chair of IPEN, a network of environmental and chemical safety campaigns. IPEN worked closely with firefighters’ unions to press for the PFOA ban.


Work cancer risk warning after UK government safety cuts

New evidence confirming a cancer risk to tyre and rubber workers may go ignored because of the UK government’s safety deregulation and cuts, the union Unite has warned. The union was commented after research published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine revealed that workers in the tyre and rubber industry remain at significant risk of developing cancers caused by exposure to N-nitrosamines and rubber dust.

Unite noted the study findings were “particularly timely as it comes just before International Workers’ Memorial Day as the theme for this year’s event is dangerous substances – get them out of the workplace,” with the 28 April global event having a particular focus on occupational cancer prevention.

The union, which represents thousands of workers in the industry, says it is unable to properly address the new health concerns as there is no longer an effective body where it can raise such issues. It charges that this “is a result of the Conservative government’s attacks on safety laws.”

Unite says the  UK government safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), previously had a Tyre and Rubber Industries Safety Action Group (TRISAG), with active involvement of both employers and unions, where safety concerns could be raised and dealt with. “However TRISAG has been scrapped as a result of government pressure and no similar body has replaced its work,” the union says.

The new study confirms earlier findings that “N-nitrosamines exposures are associated with mortality from cancers of the bladder, lung, stomach, leukaemia, multiple myeloma, oesophagus, prostate, pancreas and liver.”

Unite national officer for the rubber industry Tony Devlin said: “This authoritative study is a stark reminder of the long-term health implications of being exposed to rubber. These dangers are being neglected as a direct result of the government’s cuts which are denying workers an effective voice in the corridors of power.”

He added: “The lack of an effective forum to deal with exposure to cancer causing substances is another example of how the government has washed it hands of workplace health and safety. Cancer deaths will not be reduced unless effective measures are taken to cut exposure levels to N-nitrosamines and rubber dust.”

Infographic – cancers and their work causes

On 28 April 2019, International Workers’ Memorial Day, global union confederation ITUC is to campaign under the theme, ‘Taking control – removing dangerous workplace substances from the workplace.’

This year ITUCwill focus on Zero Cancer, with a new poster showing risk factors for cancers at work.

Infographic – Cancers and their work causes

Infografía – tipos de cáncer y causas relacionadas con el trabajo

El 28 de abril, Día de Conmemoración de los Trabajadores y Trabajadoras, nos organizaremos bajo el lema ““Tomar el control – eliminar sustancias peligrosas del lugar de trabajo”.

Este año nos centraremos en la campaña Cero Cáncer, publicando un nuevo póster que muestra los factores de riesgo de cáncer en el trabajo.

Infografía – Tipos de cáncer y causas relacionadas con el trabajo

Infographie – Les cancers et leurs causes professionnelles

À l’occasion de la Journée internationale de commémoration des travailleuses et des travailleurs le 28 avril, nous nous organiserons sur le thème « Prendre le contrôle – éliminer les substances dangereuses du lieu de travail ».

Cette année, nous mettrons l’accent sur la campagne zéro cancer. Trouvez ci-dessous une nouvelle affiche présentant les facteurs de risque des cancers au travail.

Infographie – Les cancers et leurs causes professionnelles PDF

Global trade union confederation ITUC aims to show killer chemicals the door

In a high profile new campaign, the global trade union confederation ITUC is calling for killer chemicals to be shown the door.

Sharan Burrow, the union body’s general secretary, says the chemical industry is set to grow four-fold by 2060 and warns hazardous exposures at work already claiming a million lives each year.

Writing in Hazards magazine, she warns the global industry “can get away with this because it resorts to illegal or unethical practices to bury the evidence of health risks linked to its products.” The workplace chemical exposures crisis is behind ITUC’s decision to renew its campaign to protect workers.

On International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April 2019 the union body has adopted the theme of ‘Taking control – removing dangerous substances from the workplace’, including an emphasis on a ‘Zero Cancer’ approach.

ITUC is urging reps to seek to eliminate or minimise exposure to carcinogens in the workplace and says a first of its kind ITUC at-a-glance guide to work cancers and their causes will ensure unions can identify and challenge preventable and potentially deadly exposures.

According to Burrow: “In human terms, the cost of hazardous workplace exposures is one worker death every 30 seconds.” She said prevention isn’t happening “because corporate chemistry has captured regulators, bribed obliging scientists and attacked its detractors.  It is a fatal endeavour that must be stopped.”

All out! Global union confederation ITUC wants to show killer chemicals the door, Hazards magazine, number 145, April 2019.
Assez! La Confédération syndicale internationale veut en finir avec les produits chimiques dangereux.
¡Todos fuera! La Confederación Sindical Internacional (CSI) muestra la puerta a los productos químicos asesinos.
ITUC/Hazards 28 April dedicated events and resources website.
ITUC 28 April webpages in English, French and Spanish.
28 April ITUC ‘Chemical reaction’ poster in English, French and Spanish.
Cancers and their work causes: An ITUC/Hazards at-a-glance guide to cancer hazards. Also in French and Spanish.

UK and US backed chemical lobby to block cancer warning on titanium dioxide

A suspected carcinogen found in spray paints, sun creams and varnishes many not now be required to carry a cautionary health label in the European Union, after lobbying led by the industry and the UK and US governments.

In what campaigners say is an unprecedented and potentially illegal step, the European Commission has dropped a recommendation from its chemicals advisers for mandatory health warnings on all inhalable liquid forms of titanium dioxide (TiO2). The regulation was drafted under what EU officials describe as “very heavy” pressure from industry, supported by the UK and the Trump White House.

Bas Eickhout, a Green MEP, said: “The commission is being weak on the chemical industry and watering down the meaning of REACH [chemicals] legislation, in a pattern that is becoming increasingly concerning. If the risk assessor has given clear warnings, the Commission cannot ignore them. As a parliament, we will absolutely push to make sure this does not happen.”

The European chemicals agency ECHA, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and US agencies had all declared titanium dioxide a suspected carcinogen. But the move to include a specific warning sparked a £12m industry-led pressure campaign, and intense lobbying led by the UK, focused on the “socioeconomic consequences” of health regulation. The line echoed that taken by the industry body TDMA.

One EU source, speaking to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, said: “I am ashamed to say I don’t know why we are derogating them. We should not be having a problem with this. I think it is because we received a lot of pressure from industry, particularly on paints. It has been the worst I have seen.” The source added: “Without proper labelling, people may not wear masks when they are using spray paints, and they would be exposed.”

A 13 April 2019 letter to the European Commission from the UN special rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Baskut Tuncak, expressed dismay at the successful lobbying by the industry, supported by the UK and US governments, that blocked a suspected carcinogen warning on TiO2.

The letter noted: “I am deeply concerned that withholding from workers, consumers, and the public at large, information concerning titanium dioxide’s suspected carcinogenic properties would deprive them of essential information that is their human right.

“Not only would access to such information promote principles of democratic societies and just institutions, but the withholding of such information would disrespect our human right to bodily integrity regarding exposure to a suspected carcinogen, and may unjustifiably impact the rights to life and health, among others. For workers in particular, this may be a form of exploitation by deception and violation and abuse of numerous rights encompassed by their right to safe and healthy working conditions.”

The UN special rapporteur’s letter added: “While the concerns raised in this letter are limited to the classification of titanium dioxide, I note a need for EU Member States to better integrate human rights considerations in the management of toxic chemicals and wastes. I would therefore welcome an opportunity to discuss further how the Commission at the regional and international level may further adopt human rights considerations in development of policy frameworks relating to chemicals and wastes.”


Court overrules EC approval of cancer-causing chrome chemicals

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has banned with immediate effect the use of known carcinogens used for road markings and in paints and plastics.

The court’s Tribunal of the EU, which deals with disputes between EU institutions, ruled in the case brought by the Swedish government that an earlier European Commission decision to authorise uses of the chromium VI compounds, lead sulphochromate yellow and lead chromate molybdate red, was unlawful.

Just one company, Canada-based Dominion Colour Corporation (DCC), had applied for EU authorisation to sell pigments containing the two substances for use in road markings, metal paints and industrial plastics.

The European Commission, supported by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), argued that banning the use of these substances would be “disproportionate” considering that concerns over their health and environmental impact could be allayed by simply limiting their use.

DCC’s Maastricht-based subsidiary had said in its authorisation application that none of the alternatives available had the same characteristics as the lead chromates in question. However, both Sweden and the UK have banned the use of lead chromates in road marking paint, while evidence from other pigment manufacturers made it clear that “replacement solutions existed in the EU market for all the uses set out by DCC Maastricht in its authorisation request,” the tribunal concluded.

Environmental law group ClientEarth welcomed the ruling as a “huge victory for the environment and public health.”Alice Bernard, a chemicals lawyer for the group, said it was also a win for “the companies who had invested in safer solutions decades ago that the commission’s authorisation had effectively disadvantaged.”

Elise Vitali, policy officer on chemicals for the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), branded the original authorisation a “farce” that “exposes just how permissive the EU is to conservative business interests”. She added: “This shameful carte blanche has hammered the business case for developing safer alternative chemicals and rewarded those firms that are unable or unwilling to kick their toxic habits. We are happy to see the court remind officials that the law is the law.”