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---March 14, 1989---
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One reason why people often oppose a new facility is increased truck traffic. Trucks are big and noisy and subject to accidents, and when accidents occur involving trucks, there's a high likelihood of fatalities.

However, the federal government has recently concluded officially that there is another good reason to be concerned about increased truck traffic in your neighborhood: five separate studies in the last 3 years have shown that diesel exhaust certainly causes cancer in laboratory animals, and two studies of railroad workers show that it causes cancer in humans as well. As a result of this determination, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has issued a special publication, CARCINOGENIC EFFECTS OF EXPOSURE TO DIESEL EXHAUST, offering this recommendation: "As prudent public health policy, employers should assess the conditions under which workers may be exposed to diesel exhaust and reduce exposures to the lowest feasible limits." Citizens may reasonably ask: if NIOSH believes workers should not be exposed to diesel exhaust because of the cancer hazard, can health officials in other parts of government believe that the general public should continue to be exposed to diesel exhaust? Taken in this light, risk assessments that discuss only the traffic hazards associated with a facility are missing the major point: diesel trucks can evidently kill innocent people even if no traffic accidents occur.

Diesel engines are more efficient than gasoline engines; they produce more horsepower per gallon of fuel, and they use a less-refined (thus cheaper and more plentiful) fuel. When diesel fuel burns in an engine's combustion chamber, the resulting exhaust contains gases and particles (soot). The gases include nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, oxides of sulfur, and hydrocarbons (e.g., ethylene, formaldehyde, methane, benzene, phenol, 1,3butadiene, acrolein, and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons [PAHs], several of which are known carcinogens). Of the particles in diesel exhaust, 95% are less than 1 micron in diameter and thus they are respirable, which is to say they are easily taken into the deepest portions of the human lung where they may lodge forever. The core of each particle is made up of pure carbon, but as many as 18,000 different chemicals from the gaseous portion of the exhaust may be adsorbed (attached) onto the carbon core, and thus diesel exhaust can carry a whole host of exotic, toxic and carcinogenic chemicals into the deepest portions of your lung-down in the region where the transfer of gas occurs to put oxygen into your blood stream and to take carbon dioxide out.

As recently as 1986, NIOSH concluded that diesel exhaust did not cause cancer in laboratory animals. However, in the period 1986-1988, five long-term animal studies, and two epidemiologic studies of humans, all concluded that exposure to diesel exhaust causes lung cancer. As a result, NIOSH reversed itself and in August, 1988, issued a special "current intelligence bulletin" to get the word out that diesel fumes are dangerous. NIOSH estimates that 1.35 million American workers are routinely exposed to diesel exhausts.

Get: CARCINOGENIC EFFECTS OF EXPOSURE TO DIESEL EXHAUST [CURRENT INTELLIGENCE BULLETIN 50; DHHS (NIOSH) PUBLICATION NO. 88-116]. Cincinnati, OH: Division of Standards Development and Technology Transfer, NIOSH, Robert A. Taft Laboratories [4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45226], August, 1988; phone (513) 5338287. It's 30 pages and free.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.

Descriptor terms: particles; nox; nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, oxides of sulfur, hydrocarbons (ethylene, formaldehyde, methane, benzene, phenol, 1,3butadiene, acrolein, and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons [PAHs]); diesel; air pollution; trucks; transportation; studies; warnings; occupational safety and health; cancer; health effects;

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