Diesel fuels cancer
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has just confirmed that the inhalation of diesel exhaust is a direct cause of lung cancer.
According to Prof Johan du Plessis, an expert in occupational hygiene at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University (NWU), it has already been found earlier that diesel exhaust released from a diesel engine by means of the combustion process, is harmful to the human body. “Recent epidemiological studies have delivered sufficient evidence of this so that diesel exhaust has now been classified as a human carcinogenic (cancer causing) substance.”
Prof Johan is of the opinion that persons in specific professions such as diesel mechanics and mine workers, run a high health risk as a result of increased exposure to diesel exhaust.
“Diesel exhaust is inhaled through the nose and can move into the lungs. The diesel particles are deposited on the walls that line the air passage and are eventually absorbed by the cells. Inside these cells it elicits toxic effects and causes various forms of damage to the cell’s generic material, which can cause cancer in the long term.”
Prof Johan says employers have a legal obligation to protect the health of their employees. “When workers are exposed to diesel exhaust, the employer has an obligation to control the exposure so that it does not harm the health of the employee.”
He reckons the problem in South Africa, and even in many other developing countries, is that currently there are no occupational exposure thresholds for diesel exhaust. Thresholds are levels that are legally created to protect the health of the worker. “If a worker is exposed to levels lower than the threshold, it should not harm the worker’s health. However, it is debatable whether there actually are safe levels of exposure for carcinogens.”
Prof Johan du Plessis.