A new national study by researchers at UC Berkeley and Harvard suggests trucking company workers continuously exposed to diesel exhaust from vehicles on the highway, loading docks and city streets have an elevated risk of developing lung cancer compared to other workers.
Based on more than 30,000 worker records, the study found that short-haul drivers, who do deliveries and pickups, including loading/unloading of containers at ports and work at freight-delivery companies, had the highest rate of disease and deaths. Also at higher risk were dockworkers.
This week, California’s Air Resources Board will convene to consider the findings and vote on a landmark regulation to reduce risk to the general public from more than one million diesel trucks traveling state highways.
If adopted, California would be the first state to require new smog-free 2010 engines or carriers to retrofit pre-2007 model trucks with soot filters. The rule would extend to any trucks hauling within the state, even those vehicles registered in other states. The phase-out would start in 2010.
In 1990, California listed diesel exhaust as a known carcinogen. It also considers more than 40 chemicals within diesel to be toxic air contaminants.
“The study findings confirm that truck drivers exposed to diesel have higher rates of lung cancer,” said Dr. John Balmes, MD, a member of the state air board and a professor at UCSF and UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health.
Researchers believe long-haul drivers were at lower risk because they are protected by keeping their windows closes. Short-haul drivers often drive with their windows down and are thereby exposed to exhaust fumes.
Diesel exhaust has been linked to higher rates of lung cancer over the last decade in workers of construction, railroad, bridge and tunnel and trucking – all who inhale the toxic fumes of more than 400 chemicals including arsenic, cyanide, lead, benzene and formaldehyde.
While the current study focused on eight trucking industry jobs, a 2007 study by the same researchers compared all trucking industry jobs to the general population and also concluded that lung cancer rates were higher within the trucking industry, Balmes said.
This is one of several studies published in the last decade that links trucking and cancer risk.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2002, released a controversial study that found diesel exhaust caused lung cancer. EPA officials said, data obtained from numerous animal tests and occupational studies indicate a clear link between long-term exposure to the hazardous substance and lung cancer.
The EPA report's conclusions were similar to those found during recent studies conducted by numerous health organizations. When inhaled, diesel exhaust from large trucks, farm equipment and construction devices may also exacerbate allergies, impact the lungs' ability to function and worsen asthma. #