Firefighters and cancer

A 1994 report prepared by the (now defunct) Ontario Industrial Disease Surveillance Panel included a recommendation that brain, lymphatic and haematopoietic cancers (such as leukaemia) should be added to the list of conditions for which workers’ compensation payments were made. The recommendation said the Workers’ Compensation Board must presume a firefighter’s cancer “is work related unless it is proved to be unrelated.” The report was prompted by an approach from the firefighters’ union. Presumptive laws on firefighter cancers like this exist in several jurisdications, notably in the US, Canada and Australia. In 2004, the North American firefighters’ union IAFF published a guide to presumptive laws in Canada.

Report to the Worker’ Compensation Board on Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer Among Firefighters, IDSP, 1994.

Manchester printers had high lung cancer rates

Print union members who had worked in the newspaper industry between 1949 and 1963 were investigated for possible risks of lung cancer related to their work. The researchers found that those who had operated newspaper rotary letterpress machines had an increased risk of lung cancer. Machine assistants were 1.8 times more likely to develop lung cancer than members of the general population. Lung cancer incidence in print managers was 1.4 times the expected level. The increases were attributed to ink mist. The authors say their research “suggests that there may be a real effect of exposure to letterpress ink mists. This is biologically plausible, as benzo[a]pyrene, a known human carcinogen, has been found in appreciable concentrations in the atmosphere of rotary letterpress machine rooms.” Mineral oils, linked to cancer, were also present in print rooms.

DA Leon and others. Lung cancer among newspaper printers exposed to ink mist – a study of trade union members in Manchester, England, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 51, number 2, pages 87-94, 1994.

Industry sparks controversy over glass fibre and cancer

The North American Insulation Manufacturers’ Association (NAIMA) suffered a major setback in 1994, when its attempt to block inclusion of man-made mineral fibres (MMMF) in the US National Toxicology Program’s Annual Report of Carcinogens (ARC) failed. NAIMA has submitted a petition to the Secretary of Human Services opposing the move. In response, scientists with the federation workplace safety regulator OSHA reviewed the evidence. They were critical of evidence used in the company’s defence, particularly industry sponsored animal studies by Thomas Hesterberg which concluded glass fibres do not cause cancer. The OSHA scientists highlighted several major deficiencies in the Hesterberg animal experiments, and also contested the negative conclusions reached. Following its review of both animal and human data, they concluded that glass fibres should be classified as carcinogenic, noting “that on a fiber-per-fiber basis, glass fibers may be as potent or even more potent than asbestos.” The NAIMA petition was denied and glass fibre was listed in the ARC as being “reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans.” Thomas Hesterberg later turned his attention to the asbestos industry and gave evidence against an asbestos ban before the Supreme Court in Brazil in 2012 and was a contributor at an asbestos industry promotional conference in India in 2013. In November 2013, he was named in a list of “scientists who help asbestos industry sell asbestos.”

PE Infante and others. Fibrous glass and cancer, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, volume 26, pages 559-584, 1994.
TW Hesterberg and others. Chronic inhalation study of size-separated glass fibers in Fischer 344 rats, Fundamental and Applied Toxicology, volume 20, pages 464-476, 1993.

Creosote linked to cancer

A study of wood impregnators in Norway and Sweden found elevated rates of the lip and a skin cancer in creosote exposed workers. The researchers looked at cancer incidence in a group of 922 men who had worked in the industry at some time in the period from 1950 to 1975, using national cancer registries.

S Karlehagen and others. Cancer incidence among creosote exposed workers, Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health, volume 19, pages 200-207, 1993.

IIAC reject aluminium smelting lung cancer risk, moves on bladder cancer

After considering the bladder and lung cancer risk posed by aluminium smelting the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council recommended that only bladder cancer in relation to the Soderberg process should be added to the prescribed industrial disease list. The changed took effect in April 1993.

Bladder and lung cancer in relation to work in aluminium smelting. Cm 2104, IIAC, December 1992.

Asbestos cancers have been around a long time

This commentary addresses questions about asbestos-related cancer recognition. According to Andrew Watterson (2014): “It has much wider importance in terms of

the interrelationship between scientific knowledge and the different disciples relevant to occupational cancer research. Challenges the view that asbestos cancers were recognized epidemiologically only in the 1960s and not the 1940s. Notes pathology studies between the 1930s and the 1950s often carried greater weight than epidemiological ones.”

David Egilman. Public health and epistemology, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, volume 22.3, pages 457-459, 1992.

Limited number of silica-related lung cancers get prescribed

The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) recommend that the government “prescribe lung cancer where there is silicosis in certain jobs”. The recommendation was accepted by the government and implemented in April 1993.

Lung Cancer in relation to occupational exposure to silica, Cm 2043, IIAC, September 1992.

HSE weakens the silica exposure standard

On 1 January 1992, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) introduced a weaker permissible exposure standard for crystalline silica. The new maximum exposure limit for respirable quartz was 0.4mg/m3 (up from a recommended limit of 0.1mg/m3) and with the same standard applying to cristabolite and tridymite (0.05 mg/m3). According to Hazards magazine: “It has become clear that the quarry industry demanded an weakening of exposure standards because it claimed that it could not meet the existing standards. Rather than stand firm, the HSE has caved in and accepted the weaker standard, claiming that its new guidance notes would ensure that where better standards had already been achieved they would be maintained.” At the time IARC said there was limited evidence crystalline silica caused cancer in humans (IARC, 1987); it was subsequently upgraded by IARC to a group 1 proven cause of cancer in humans. HSE research in 2009 found HSE had dramatically over-estimated levels of industry compliance with silica exposure standards and under-estimated the numbers of workers over-exposed. At this point the exposure standard had reverted to 0.1mg/m3.

Reported in Hazards, number 38, 1992.

High cancer mortality in certain occupational groups

Work can be a major contributor to cancer mortality on certain occupational groups. This study found 40 per cent of the lung and bladder cancer cases in certain industrial groups can be caused by occupational exposures.

Vineis P and Simonato L. Proportion of lung and bladder cancers in males resulting from occupation: a systematic approach, Archives of Environmental Health, volume 46, pages 6-15, 1991.

Safer alternatives are one solution

The UK Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988, which took effect in January 1990, put a new emphasis on substitution of dangerous chemicals and processes with less dangerous ones. This mirrored the approach promoted by unions for years, including campaigns to rid workplaces of asbestos, carcinogenic dyes, the weedkiller 2,4,5-T, wood preservatives, organic solvents and isocyanates. It also brought UK legislation closer to that in in many developed nations in Europe and better practice in North America. But Hazards magazine warns to secure real improvements requires information, organisation and union vigilance.

Safer alternatives, Hazards, number 31, December 1990.

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).