Mining up the truth

A long-awaited study by the National Cancer Institute has finally been released after 20 years of research on more than 12,000 miners, and more than 10 years of lobbying by the Miners Awareness Research Group, which tried to stop or stall the publication of findings. The results indicate that those miners directly exposed to diesel emissions (ever-underground workers) were some 3 times more likely to die of lung cancer than those exposed to low doses (surface workers), and 7 times more likely for miners who were also non-smokers.  An even clearer relationship was discovered by segregating those miners who had worked underground at some point with surface workers and comparing them, which revealed increasing risk with increasing direct exposure; however, even low exposure increased the risk for lung cancer 50% over the general public. The study began in the interest of building on similar studies that have insinuated a link between diesel exhaust and cancer.  Other entities have already made the connection, such as the state of California, which labelled diesel engine exhaust (DEE) a human carcinogen over a decade ago and has been acting accordingly ever since, with a huge diesel cleanup programprojected to reduce soot by 90% in three years.   In cities like Los Angeles, New York and Beijing, the average levels of respirable carbon in the air can often mirror the levels tested in the workers’ conditions in the study, which logically progresses to urban residents experiencing the same risk for lung cancer.  As one of the study authors, Debra Silverman states, “if the diesel exhaust/lung cancer relation is causal, the public health burden of the carcinogenicity of inhaled diesel exhaust in workers and in populations of urban areas with high levels of diesel exposure may be substantial.”

An editorial released along with the study suggests that although the results seem dismal, the best approach is to focus on the future, which can be changed by implementing the various engineering controls and upgrades to equipment, improved ventilation and education for better worker practices that have been refined in recent years. Allen Schaeffer, the Executive Director of the Diesel Technology Forum, recently issued a statement that boasts, “Advancements in diesel technology have consistently contributed to clean air progress around the country. …For example, over the last 10 years alone, emissions from heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses have been reduced by 99 percent for nitrogen oxides (NOx) – an ozone precursor – and 98 percent for particulate emissions.”

You can read the full journal articles on the study here and here.


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