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Diesel engines blamed for 11,000 lung cancer deaths

Diesel engines may be better for fuel economy, but not necessarily your health. A study by Environmental Health Perspectives has linked them to an estimated 11,000 lung cancer deaths per year.

The study claims that, even though diesel engines are getting more efficient and less prone to spewing  nasty emissions, exhaust gases play a significant role in lung cancer figures, particularly among truckers, miners and railroad workers who are exposed to them on a daily basis.

As much as 6 per cent of lung cancer deaths in the UK and USA are thought to be attributed to diesel engine exhaust emissions, with 9,000 in the US and 2,000 in the UK.

It said diesel emissions were a major threat to people living near highways or in dense cities where there’s lots of passing traffic and that 1.3 per cent in the US and 4.8 per cent in the UK of deaths by lung cancer per year are down to environmental and occupational diesel engine exhaust exposure.

Truckers and miners exposed to diesel exhaust gases are 70 times more likely to get lung cancer than the acceptable level under US occupational standards, the study found, while those who live in urban areas face a ten time higher risk compared with what is deemed acceptable by US health standards.

An estimated 21 people per 10,000 exposed to the level of diesel exhaust found near a US highway would be at risk of dying from lung cancer. 

“Combined data from three US occupational cohort studies suggest that DEE at levels common in the workplace and in outdoor air appear to pose substantial excess lifetime risks of lung cancer, above usually acceptable limits in the US and Europe, which are generally set at 1/1,000 and 1/100,000 based on lifetime exposure for the occupational and general population, respectively,” the study said.

Researchers from Emory University looked at data from three separate studies of workers, two of truck drivers and one of non-metal miners, and national death statistics from the US and UK for the study.

While it’s safe to say the stuff that comes out of an exhaust is probably not good for you, the authors of the study admit the estimates “are far from precise and depend on broad assumptions”, but said the findings were “generally consistent” with past research.

In 2012 a study reviewed the claim that diesel engine exhaust is a carcinogen, concluding that it is a cause of lung cancer “based on human, animal and experimental evidence”.


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