Thursday, October 25, 2012

Diesel Fumes and Risks of Lung Cancer

Whoever told you that with the recent focus on 'diesel cleaning', the harmful effects of diesel exhaust emissions have been done away with probably doesn't have a clue about the complete picture. Diesel engine emissions have cancer-causing potential, no matter how much sulfur is removed from diesel during the refining process. Also, the introduction of emission control devices in diesel engines doesn't completely do away with the carcinogens that are produced when a fossil-based fuel like diesel is burned. Diesel engine smoke contains a lot of air pollutants that are detrimental to the health of living organisms when they inhale it, as well as when they are merely exposed to it. A strong connection between diesel engine emissions and lung cancer has been established recently by studies all over the world. In fact, in June, 2012, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) declared diesel fumes to be directly responsible for the rising instances of lung cancer in recent times.

Diesel Fumes and Lung Cancer
The carcinogenic effects of diesel fumes are not restricted to the lungs alone. Various studies and medical cases have indicated a strong relationship between exposure to diesel emissions and bladder cancer. The recent declaration of W.H.O., acknowledging diesel exhaust gas as a carcinogen, is going to have a lot of impact upon the safety regulations for workers who are exposed to diesel smoke and fumes as a regular part of their profession. The following points enumerate various facts and concerns, regarding health effects of diesel engine emissions, that have been put forward by various experts on health and environment, including the W.H.O.
  • While advanced refining technology has made it possible to 'clean' diesel to a huge extent so that a very small amount of sulfur is left behind in the final form of the fuel, such cleaning does not always take place. A lot of countries are yet to put strict regulations and standards on the quality and grade of fuel that is used for activities and professions involving burning of significant volumes of diesel on a regular basis.
  • The particulate matter that make up the soot that is produced on burning diesel is the greatest culprit behind causing a lot of health problems in those who are exposed to it on a regular basis. Like all carcinogens, the particulate matter in soot causes damage to the DNA in the cells of the lungs and bladder. Cells, thus affected, develop abnormalities which are in turn replicated owing to mitosis. This is how abnormal tissues grow and spread, causing a cancerous lump to form in the affected organ.
  • While the effects of inhaling diesel fumes just once, for a prolonged period, can be felt in the form of headache, dizziness, nausea, irritation of the eyes and respiratory canal, coughing, etc., long-term and regular exposure to diesel smoke and soot is known to pose threats of lung and bladder cancer as well as chronic respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments. Railroad workers, toll collectors, miners, truckers and workers in factories and establishments where diesel-powered equipment is used extensively are the ones who run the highest risk of developing lung cancer and other chronic respiratory ailments from inhalation of carcinogens and toxic exhaust particulates on a daily basis.
  • While the more affluent nations have strict fuel and emission laws that are firmly enforced, this is not always the case in the developing countries of the world. As a result, while 'clean fuel' and 'emission control' are actually practiced in developed nations, these areas often go neglected in developing countries. Often, the reason is an inability to afford or get access to the relevant technology that is needed to render fossil fuels and their emissions harmless to the environment and living organisms.
  • Diesel exhaust had already been labeled as reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen, likely carcinogen and potential occupational carcinogen by three different federal bodies before W.H.O. officially classified it as a known carcinogen early this year. That should make lawmakers in developing countries get more serious about tightening fuel emission regulations and enforcing the same more strictly than ever.
In the same statement that confirms the cancer-causing potential of diesel exhaust emissions, the International Agency for Research of Cancer, which is a part of W.H.O., has also claimed that the carcinogenic potential of diesel fumes may be greater than secondhand cigarette smoke. Lawmakers and government bodies may take some time to wake up to the seriousness of the magnitude of health issues caused by fossil fuel emissions. However, you, as an individual, can do your part to help environment by making sure to have the emission control devices in your vehicle in top order and by being attentive to the regular maintenance needs of your ride.
By Ishani Chatterjee Shukla