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Whether you work on the railroad or down a mine, there are a lot of visible threats to your health. There are quite a few invisible ones too.
Heavy diesel fumes may be visible at times to the naked eye but the real danger is the tiny but unseen particles that get stuck in the lungs of workers. A new study by the National Cancer Institute links diesel fumes to lung cancer in mines.
The study that began in 1992 looked at 12,350 workers in mines in New Mexico, Wyoming, Ohio and Missouri.
“It was across the United States. We had one salt mine, we had three potash mines, we had three trona mines and one limestone mine,” Patricia Schlieff, a statistician for the project, told Essential Pubic Radio.
“The study findings provide further evidence that exposure to diesel exhaust increases risk of mortality from lung cancer and have important public health implications,” the paper concluded.
The study found 198 miners died of lung cancer in the eight mines studied. The miners were exposed to diesel exhaust.
There’s now a growing body of evidence that railroad workers exposed to diesel are also suffering from lung cancer. Research also centers on a disease called “diesel asthma.”
Diesel fumes are a complex chemical mixture containing hundreds of compounds, including nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, benzene, poly-systematic hydrocarbons and numerous other compounds.
For more than 50 years diesel has run locomotives on the railroads, resulting in railroad workers suffering heavy exposure to its effects. Levels of lung cancer spiked after diesel trains replaced steam trains in the 1950s.
In recent years the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) that permits an injured worker to bring lawsuits directly against his employers, has been used in cases of railroad workers who have developed lung cancer or asthma linked to diesel fumes.
In April 2008, an Ohio state court jury ordered the rail operator Conrail to pay $2.6 million to former locomotive engineer Frank Battaglia, for causing his diesel exhaust asthma lung disease. Mr. Battaglia, had worked for more than two decades as an engineer, before he was diagnosed with diesel exhaust fume asthma.
Evidence of diesel asthma has significance beyond the mine and the railroad. The link between the increased use of diesel cars and a rise in asthma in the general population of Britain was highlighted in a campaign in the British newspaper The Independent.
In a 2002 report the Environmental Protection Agency pointed to a likely link between diesel fumes and lung cancer in the United States. The report concluded long-term exposure to diesel “is likely to pose a lung cancer hazard to humans as well as damage the lung in other ways depending on exposure.”
The report led the Bush administration to propose reductions in emissions from diesel engines.
Research suggests the young may be particularly vulnerable from asthma caused by particles in diesel. Researchers in California suggest pollutants in diesel cause as many as 3,500 premature deaths a year in the state.