June 13, 2012 (San Francisco, CA) On Tuesday, June 12, 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that diesel fumes cause lung cancer.  Diesel fumes are now classified as a WHO Group 1 carcinogen, a status shared with tobacco, asbestos, ultraviolet radiation, alcohol and other hazardous substances. 

The WHO declaration came out of a week-long meeting of scientists who were studying the health effects of diesel and gasoline exhausts.  Among the data evaluated was a March 2012 published study whose lead author, Debra T. Silverman, ScD, is chief of environmental epidemiology for the National Cancer Institute.  Dr. Silverman's group studied 12,000 miners exposed to diesel fumes and found a general overall risk for lung cancer.  Nonsmoking miners who were heavily exposed to diesel fumes had seven times the normal lung cancer risk of nonsmokers. 

In the United States, diesel fumes are considered a "likely carcinogen," a "potential occupational carcinogen" or "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."  Dr. Silverman believes that the US government will likely follow suit and declare diesel fumes a carcinogen.  Low-sulfur diesel fuel was introduced in the United States in 2000 and became mandatory in 2006.  The new diesel fuels reduced particulates released into the environment.  However, there is presently little information on whether the newer diesel will have an impact on health risks.

Workers who may be exposed to diesel fumes would include miners, truck and bus drivers, heavy equipment operators, diesel mechanics, shipboard engine room trades, and railroad workers.  There is already personal injury litigation involving claims of lung cancer caused by exposure to hazardous materials including asbestos, abrasives, radon gas, and other toxic substances.  The diesel fumes classification as a carcinogen will likely result in lawsuits alleging lung cancer due to diesel fumes exposure.  On the other hand, defendants in lung cancer toxic exposure cases may also be able to utilize the diesel fumes research as a possible defense in relevant cases as evidence of a contributory or alternate cause of lung cancer.  

If you would like any additional information regarding the WHO diesel fumes declaration or would like to receive a copy of the Silverman study, please contact WFBM partner This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - or any other WFBM attorney with whom you have an existing relationship.