How serious are we about protecting workers health? The case of diesel engine exhaust

Roel Vermeulen*, Lützen Portengen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objectives: Regulators frequently deviate from health-based recommendations when setting occupational exposure limits, but the impact on workers' health is rarely made explicit. We present a quantitative evaluation of the expected impact of recently proposed regulatory limits for occupational diesel engine exhaust (DEE) exposure on the excess burden of lung cancer (LC) in Europe. Methods: We used a lifetable approach, basing our analyses on the DEE exposure distribution in a large general population study, as well as the 5% prevalence used in earlier DEE burden calculations. We evaluated the effects of intervention on DEE exposures according to a health based limit (1 ug/m3 of elemental carbon (EC)) and both Dutch (10 ug/m3) and European (50 ug/m3) proposed regulatory limit values. Results were expressed as individual excess lifetime risks (ELR), total excess number of cases and population attributable fraction of LC. Results: The ELR for the EU working population was estimated to be 341/10 000 workers based on our empirical exposure distribution and 46/10 000 workers based on the 5% prevalence. Implementing the proposed health based DEE limit would reduce the ELR by approximately 93%, while the proposed regulatory limits of 10 and 50 ug/m3 EC would reduce the ELR by 51% and 21%, respectively. Discussion: Although the proposed regulatory limits are expected to reduce the number of DEE related LC deaths, the residual ELRs are still significantly higher than the targets used for deriving health-based risk limits. The number of additional cases of LC in Europe due to DEE exposure, therefore, remains significant.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107752
Pages (from-to)540-542
JournalOccupational and Environmental Medicine
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 11 Feb 2022


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