Tuesday, June 12, 2012

WHO: Diesel exhaust can cause cancer

Via CNN:

(CNN) -- Exhaust from diesel engines can cause cancer, a prominent global cancer group that's part of the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
While the International Agency For Research On Cancer (IARC) has no power to set or enforce rules, many governments look to it for guidance and the decision could put pressure on those governments to introduce stricter limits on emissions, especially to protect workers who are exposed to diesel exhaust while on the job.
The IARC has for more than two decades classified diesel engine exhaust as a "probable" carcinogen -- a cancer-causing agent -- but until recently there was no clear evidence linking it to higher cancer rates.
This winter, however, two studies were published based on research involving more than 12,000 mine workers done by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, known as the Diesel Exhaust in Miners Study, or DEMS.
Together, the two new papers found an increase in lung cancer rates among workers exposed to diesel exhaust underground, with greater exposure linked to steadily higher cancer rates. In workers with the highest exposure, deaths from lung cancer tripled in one study, and increased five-fold in the other.
It's unclear whether the decision will affect rules in the United States. Since 2008, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has enforced a limit of 160 micrograms of total carbon per cubic meter for workers in U.S. mines. "Total carbon" is used as a marker for diesel fumes.
The IARC didn't specify a level at which diesel fumes are harmful, but data from DEMS suggests that cancer risks go up even at relatively modest levels -- the equivalent of air pollution in some major cities, including London, Mexico City and the Bronx section of New York City.

Hopefully this will result in greater support and subsidization of freight railroad capacity, intermodal freight, and otherwise getting trucks off the road. At the same time, there needs to be investment in clean trucks for short distance and yard duties as well as clean switcher locomotives. While the studies, focusing as they did on coal miners, do not necessarily prove a higher risk of cancer for those living in areas subjected to heavy amounts of diesel exhaust, I'm reasonably certain that application of the risk levels, especially with the DEMS study, will show an increased cancer risk resulting from truck traffic.


  1. What about pollution found within diesel powered vehicles and the stations they use?

    Back Bay station is really bad, always smells like exhaust in there. There's supposed to be a ventilation project to fix that.

    1. Wouldn't surprise me if that, or at least the avoidance of lawsuits related to it, was an additional motivating factor for commuter electrification. Not so much an issue for passengers in terms of cancer risk I don't think, but employees could be an issue. If memory serves, BNSF is already dealing with employee lawsuits over health risks involved with the Cascades Tunnel, this won't help them any (I suspect that they'll turn to hybrids, especially with lithium air batteries rather than re-electrify the tunnel however).

  2. The Transit Coalition cited your blog post on electrifying Metrolink in a letter to the Metrolink Board.


    It was cited near the end as a long-term solution to budget woes caused by volatile fuel prices.

    1. Thanks for the notice. I suppose I really ought to go and see if Metrolink could get its energy for free in an electrification program, been meaning to do some calculations and a possible post along those lines.

    2. And the answer is pretty much no. Well, it is doable, but it would greatly increase the cost of the program to do it with solar. For about the same price, you might as well put a new reactor in at SONGS and get rather more utility out of it (not just in terms of simple power and capacity factor either, you've also got a useful life expectancy 3-5 times longer).

      That said, even just using electric locomotives, you're looking at cutting fuel costs to about a third of their previous (methodology: NTD says ~10.5 million vehicle revenue hours per year, 2.3 gallons per mile (Amtrak's average) and $3.25 per gallon is ~$78.5 million. A BR Class 90 hauling 500t [six Guardian cars is 450 short tons] gets 22.62 kWh/mile, LA Metro pays 12 cents per kWh, comes out to about $28.5 million).

    3. You should send a letter to the board with your own findings. Maybe even comment at a future board meeting.

      In the transit world, capital funding seems to be more plentiful than operational funding these days. I think Metrolink should compete for that funding next year. Put together a proposal this year and send out applications for funding next year.


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