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Publication of NIOSH Current Intelligence Bulletin on Carcinogenic Effects of Diesel Exhaust

In August 1988, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) issued Current Intelligence Bulletin No. 50: Carcinogenic Effects of Exposure to Diesel Exhaust. This publication is one of a series of bulletins that provide new information or update data on chemical substances, physical agents, or safety hazards found in the workplace. Current Intelligence Bulletin No. 50, which is summarized below, is now available to the public.* This document disseminates recent information on the potential carcinogenicity of diesel exhaust. Approximately 1.35 million workers are occupationally exposed to the combustion products of diesel fuel in approximately 80,000 workplaces in the United States. Workers most likely to be exposed to diesel exhaust are forklift and truck drivers; workers in mines, tunnels, and maintenance garages (auto, truck, or bus); and workers on bridges, farms, loading docks, and railroads. In 1986, NIOSH concluded that no causal relationship had been established between exposure to diesel exhaust and cancer but that such a relationship was plausible on the basis of animal studies involving extracts of diesel exhaust particulates. Since 1986, animal studies have confirmed the potential carcinogenicity of whole (unfiltered) diesel exhaust, and limited epidemiologic evidence has associated occupational exposure to diesel exhaust with lung cancer. NIOSH therefore recommends that diesel exhaust be regarded as a potential occupational carcinogen in conformance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Cancer Policy (29 CFR 1990). Diesel exhaust is a complex and varying mixture of compounds encountered in a multitude of environmental settings. Because technology and test methods are limited, NIOSH cannot confidently recommend 1) methods for environmental monitoring of exposures or 2) control measures for adequately reducing the carcinogenic risks of occupational exposure to diesel exhaust. The excess risk of cancer has not been quantitatively estimated for workers exposed to diesel exhaust, but minimizing exposure should reduce the risk. As a 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 concentrations. Reported by: Div of Standards Development and Technology Transfer, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC.

*Copies can be obtained without charge from the Publications Dissemination Section, Division of Standards Development and Technology Transfer, NIOSH, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, Ohio 45226; telephone: (513) 533-8287.

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