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Diesel Exhaust Now Linked Directly to Cancer

by on June 28, 2012

Diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer – so says the World Health Organization in their June 12, 2012 press release IARC: Diesel Engine Exhaust Carcinogenic. Listen to the audio recording of the press briefing on June 12, 2012. WHO also noted an association between diesel emissions and an increased risk of bladder cancer.

The WHO’s science panel recently upgraded the status of diesel exhaust to an outright “carcinogen” from “probable carcinogen” in an important shift in its public health policy.

“It’s on the same order of magnitude as passive smoking,” said the director of the department that evaluates cancer risks, Kurt Straif. “This could be another big push for countries to clean up exhaust from diesel engines.”

Railway Workers Specifically Mentioned

Straif said that there could be many cases of lung cancer connected to diesel emissions, with fumes affecting a broad cross section of people, including railway workers.

What About Neighbouring Residents?

“The main studies that led to this conclusion were in highly exposed workers,” continued Straif. “However, we have learned from other carcinogens, such as radon, that initial studies showing a risk in heavily exposed occupational groups were followed by positive findings for the general population. Therefore actions to reduce exposures should encompass workers and the general population.”

With idling locomotives, and frequently prolonged exposure to fumes being the number one complaint we receive here, Straif’s comments further add to the mounting body of evidence of the associated health risks connected to diesel emissions. The fumes from idling locomotives should be placed squarely in the crosshairs of our regulatory agencies for the public good.

Currently in Canada, the noise and vibration from idling locomotives bears consideration in the assessment of rail-related complaints from affected citizens, but not diesel exhaust.

With the reclassifying of diesel exhaust into the carcinogenic category, it shares the same distinction as both asbestos and ultraviolet radiation.

Risk Linked to the Amount of Exposure

“It’s pretty well known that if you get enough exposure to diesel, it’s a carcinogen, said Ken Donaldson, a University of Edinburgh professor of respiratory toxicology in “WHO’s cancer agency: Diesel fumes cause cancer”.

Donaldson, who was not part of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) panel decision that led to the upgraded carcinogenic status by the World Health Organization, also said that the thousands of particles, including some harmful chemicals in diesel exhaust could cause inflammation in the lungs, and that this could lead to cancer.

Donaldson further linked that the more the exposure to diesel exhaust, the higher the risk of human health consequences.

What’s the Risk to Residents?

For residents living in around rail yards, with idling locomotives belching soot and fumes, often for hours on end, it all adds up to an increasingly questionable and unacceptable cumulative health risk.

It’s time to place restrictions on locomotive idling and protect residential air quality and the environment. No more excuses – it’s not acceptable to leave locomotives idling for hours in proximity to homes, to farmland, or other environmentally sensitive areas.

No Excuses for Second Hand Smoke

It’s a completely ludicrous suggestion by the railways to shrug off their second hand smoke upon their neighbouring residents by suggesting that they restrict ventilation to their own homes during stifling hot weather and keep their doors and windows sealed in order to keep the railway’s own pollution out.

Either shut down your dirty idling diesel engines, or build idling sheds to contain them. There’s plenty of technology currently available for year-round automated locomotive shut downs.

There’s nothing very “green” about rail operations given the exposure to exhaust and affected air quality that far too many Canadians are having to put up with – in and around their own homes.

It’s time for railways to clear the air, literally.

© Copyright 2012

  1. Walter Pfefferle permalink

    Railways contribute such a small amount of fumes when you consider the amount of freight two locomotives move. The hundreds of thousands of trucks travelling the highways contribute in one day what most railways contribute in one year.

  2. Anthony Eberts permalink

    I live next door to the Southern Railway depot at Quayside Drive and Laguna and note that their diesel vehiclles, sometimes three at a time, often stand idling for as long as 15 minutes (contrary to municipal regulations), adding to the locomotive air pollution. My condo looks out at the antique swing bridge to Queensborough, and the locos often belch clouds of blue smoke as they haul over it.

    • trainjane permalink

      Hello Mr. Eberts,
      Thank you for your comment. Diesel emissions from railways are a concern in many areas, with reports of locomotives being left idling for hours, overnight, or even longer intervals…

  3. Jeff Willsie permalink

    Hi Trane Jane
    You should get that mp of yours to lobby for the building of nuclear generating stations & get the railways electrified right away.Im totaly in favor of this.While you are at it get the federal & provincial government to take all the diesel trucks & buses off the road immediately. This would create a lot more traffic for the railway.As i said before,electric railways shall deliver to many transloading facilites & hydrogen or some other form of non diesel powered trucks can do the short haul.Sad situation is though this change might not happen immediately, so if you are realy worried you should probably move away from the railway because the economy would collapse without the trucks & railway operating.I would expect there would be major food shortages in urban areas.Change will take a long time i expect.
    Jeff Willsie
    Ontario Southland Railway

    • trainjane permalink

      Hello Mr. Willsie,

      First of all, let’s clarify something. It’s “Trainjane” not Trane Jane. Surely, as a President of a railway company you can at least make that distinction!

      If you choose to share your visions of the future with your Member of Parliament, that’s your call, and no, I’m not going to do it for you.

      Overall, Mr. Willsie, it might be more appropriate to cultivate a more meaningful approach with resident stakeholders and be a better neighbour than to repeatedly antagonize citizens with the same old tired four-letter word refrain of “Move!” There are far too many people currently being affected, far too many homes at stake, and too many lives.

      Some of the people we’ve heard from already live some distance from the railway, but are still being woken up by train whistles, which can often be heard for miles around every time they’re used.

      We do not agree that the only alternative for Canadians who find themselves affected by the rail industry’s noise and air pollution is to either absorb it or abandon their homes. Many of these problems are a result of changes made by the railways to their operations, without consideration to residents, many of whom lived for years in their homes by the railway with few problems or concerns.

      These folks deserve better, Mr. Willsie.

  4. Gary Prokovich permalink

    New Westminster B.C. residents trying to get help from Gov’t and city officials a joke, whistles and bells all night trains smashing and crashing. Where is Timothy McVey when you need him? Every one should blockade the tracks continuallyn even if it means going to jail. I have been there a few timesm because of their arrogance. The smoke from B.C. Southern Rail in New Wes’r B.C. is unbeleivable So what happened to enviro and pollution control? CRAP. But they sureb know how to tax us this huge problem. Somebodyb HELP. City Counsil and Mayor do not care. Do not pay your property taxes and see what happens as long as every one sticks together. . I like to stand on the tracks and stop the trains. They like to blow mostly at intersections not by their law 1 quarter of a mile or about 20 seconds from the corner for a warninmg. This is a safety issue? How do you plan on stopping at the intersection when you blow and ring within a few hundred feet from the corner?Saftety is not an issue at xings. Accidents are rare. Look up CNR derailments and you will see what i mean.Do not even talk about smoke . Diesel supper every night.

    • trainjane permalink

      Hello Mr. Prokovich,
      Although we appreciate your frustration, and your comment serves as an example of this, we, in no way, support any type of aggression or violence and view it as a means to escalate, rather that resolve, conflict.

      In particular, we’re very concerned about your reference to standing on the tracks and stopping the trains. It can take a train a very long distance to stop, so please don’t take it for granted that it can; the consequences of this could well be horrific for yourself and for the train crew.

      I know this firsthand, after listening to a rail employee’s account of the aftermath of a similar situation. No one wins, Mr. Prokovich, and, in our view, when the rail industry and residents can meet each other half way, in a sincere and meaningful manner, then there is at least a glimmer of hope that the railway can, once again, be a part of the community rather than at odds with it, as is occurring all too often.

  5. Patric permalink

    I wonder why in Canada there are no electric trains which used in Europe. They are quieter and cleaner. Bombardier builds electric trains from France and Germany. What’s wrong with you Canada and North America?

    • trainjane permalink

      Hello Patric,
      Yes, here in Canada we lag well behind in advances in rail transportation that are being utilized elsewhere. It’s frustrating for those who are being affected here, knowing that solutions can be found and do exist. Until the railway industry and communities can come together in a meaningful and ongoing way here, overall, I think we will continue to lag behind badly.

  6. Gary Prokovich permalink

    i think people who live near politicians should go to their homes and honk their horns all night and see how they like being kept awake all night then go to work without any sleep day after day. They have to implement a whistle cessation bylaw between 10 pm and 7 am. We pay their outrageous wages and they do little to do anything for us. Maybe we should hjave a general strike on this problem alone. Also the smoke from the trains are getting worse by the day. You litterally can not breath you have to get in your house because your throat and eyes are burning from the fumes. Thanks to not getting any help from Health and Safety Canada.We can phone them. So what is their job? Let polluting railroads cause a lot more cancer than there is now.

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