Yesterday the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organisation, upgraded its classification of diesel engine exhausts as carciongenic to humans, based on sufficient evidence that exposure to them is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer. According to the BBC, it is thought that people working in high-risk industries have a 40% increased risk or developing cancer. The director of the IARC stated that: “the strongest scientific studies come from those in workers that are exposed through their occupation, particularly miners for example”.
Dr Christopher Portier, Chairman of the IARC working Group, stated that “The scientific evidence was compelling and the Working Group’s conclusion was unanimous: diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in humans. Given the additional health impacts from diesel particulates, exposure to this mixture of chemicals should be reduced worldwide.”
Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Program, indicated that “The main studies that led to this conclusion were in highly exposed workers. 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.”
Dr Christopher Wild, Director, IARC, said that “today’s conclusion sends a strong signal that public health action is warranted.”
These findings raise some serious questions for the opencast coal industry and local councils that allow it to happen. Communities struggling against opencast mining have for years been calling for more research into the impacts of opencasting and the diesel fumes caused by it on community health. The Douglasdale Coal Health Study, for example, highlights the striking ill-health and increased cancer rates in communities surrounding Douglas Valley opencast mines.
Why has there never been transparency from Scottish Coal about the amount of diesel consumed on its opencast sites, or in the haulage of the coal? Except for one notable exception when a figure of 500,000 litres of diesel a week was divulged for the Broken Cross site in Douglasdale, Scottish Coal have always refused to release information on diesel consumption. Worse still, South Lanarkshire Council have always refused to request that information from them.
Why have calls from communities for a full and independent investigation into the health impacts of opencast mining in Douglasdale never been acted upon? Is it findings such as these by the WHO that make Scottish Coal keep its diesel consumption such a closely guarded secret?
With more and more evidence coming to light about the impact that industry such as opencast mining is having on people’s health, its time we started getting some answers.