Diesel exhaust causes cancer, WHO advisory group concludes

Updated Jun 14, 2012

The Diesel Technology Forum on Tuesday, June 12, stood up for diesel engine and equipment manufacturers following a global cancer group’s report that exhaust from diesel engines can cause cancer.

The International Agency For Research On Cancer, an advisory group that’s part of the World Health Organization, has classified diesel engine exhaust as a “probable” carcinogen – a cancer-causing agent – for more than two decades, but until recently there was no clear evidence linking it to higher cancer rates.

This winter, two studies were published based on research involving more than 12,000 mine workers. The Diesel Exhaust in Miners Study – based on the two separate papers by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health – found an increase in lung cancer rates among workers exposed to diesel exhaust underground, with greater exposure linked to steadily higher cancer rates.

IARC used the DEMS to issue its determination on Tuesday, and while the advisory group’s conclusion is not binding, it could put pressure on governments to introduce stricter limits on emissions to protect workers exposed to diesel exhaust.

Allen Schaeffer, DTF executive director, said diesel engine and equipment makers, fuel refiners and emissions control manufacturers already have invested billions of dollars in research in an ongoing effort to develop technologies that reduce emissions to meet the increasingly diverse and stringent clean air standards in all nations throughout the world.

“New-technology diesel engines, which use ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel, advanced engines and emissions control systems, are near-zero emissions for nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and particulate matter,” Schaeffer said. “In the U.S., (the Environmental Protection Agency) indicates that diesel accounts for less than six percent of all particulate matter in the air. In the U.S., emissions from heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses have been reduced by 99 percent for nitrogen oxides – an ozone precursor – and 98 percent for particulate emissions.”

Critical to this progress has been ULSD fuel that has reduced sulfur emissions by 97 percent, enabling advanced emissions control devices, Schaeffer said. “Because more than 90 percent of all global trade is powered by diesel engines, these advancements are enabling broad international environmental and public health benefits throughout the world,” he said.

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