Truckers Face Higher Risk of Cancer: Sierra Club

by James Menzies

HAMILTON, Ont. – Truck drivers face a 33 to 47 per cent greater risk of developing lung cancer due to exposure to diesel particulate matter (DPM), says a recent report by the Sierra Club of Canada.

The report also says about 13,000 Canadians will develop cancer due to diesel exhaust.

Released at a Hamilton press conference, the report states “The diesel engines currently in use in Canada are one of this country’s dirtiest transportation modes and most visible sources of air pollution. The majority of Canadians are exposed to diesel exhaust and toxic diesel particulate matter, often at levels that exceed those that have been shown to be damaging to human health.”

Among those most at risk of developing lung cancer due to exposure to diesel exhaust particles are children, truckers, mechanics, farmers and people living near highways or distribution centres.

As a result, the Sierra Club of Canada is calling on the three levels of government to take action to reduce the level of emissions by heavy-duty trucks. The environmental group is appealing to all levels of government to “implement policies to reduce heavy-duty vehicle use.”

It is also pressing municipal governments to “restrict dirty heavy-duty diesel trucks from entering city centres” and “implement anti-idling policies across Canada to reduce high localized DPM.”

Jacqueline Sharp, author of the report, admits there’s no groundbreaking news contained within its pages, but it should serve as a reminder of the dangers of DPM exposure.

“This report is not a lot of new information … it is bringing together a lot of the information that was already out there,” says Sharp.

“We brought together all the facts that were generally already out in the public domain about the public health impact of diesel particulate matter and we hope this information will allow decision-makers to understand why we need to reduce diesel pollution now and how we can do that.”

The report also took steps to “Canadianize” existing data collected in the U.S. For instance, the figure of 13,000 Canadians that could develop cancer due to DPM exposure was based on U.S. figures that were then extrapolated to give the Canadian number.

Data gathered by many different sources, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the federal government and other organizations was all considered when drafting up this latest report, Sharp says.

While the average increased risk faced by truckers and other at-risk occupations was 33 to 47 per cent, Sharp says other research that’s been done pins that number at anything from 10 per cent to 200 per cent.

The Sierra Club of Canada is hoping this latest report will add a sense of urgency to government decision-makers and truckers as well, who can help reduce their exposure to harmful DPMs, says Sharp.

“One of the things (truckers) can do is not idle their vehicles,” she says. “With a lot of newer diesel vehicles, it’s really not necessary to idle them. It just may be a force of habit because I know older diesel vehicles had to be idled to warm up and cool down.”

Sharp suggests truckers and fleets check with the OEMs to determine whether or not their vehicles need to be idled, and if so, for how long.

“When you’re idling it, you’re moving out of the temperature range where the pollution control equipment will work optimally, so it can even be more polluting when it’s sitting idling,” Sharp says.

She also urges owner/operators and fleet managers to look into purchasing new vehicles that are more environmentally-sound.

“They should be trying to get their vehicles retro-fitted with diesel particulate filters and they should be … looking at cleaner alternative fuels such as compressed natural gas heavy-duty vehicles which are much, much cleaner and available right now,” urges Sharp.

Although the report makes no mention of the significant strides heavy-duty engine manufacturers have made to reduce emissions from their latest generation of engines, Sharp says the Sierra Club is aware of their efforts and very-much encouraged by them.

But, Sharp adds: “Those won’t all be in place until 2010, so we’re looking at what’s the risk right now? Definitely by 2010 when those are all in place, the air is going to be much cleaner.”

She goes on to say: “We’re still going to have a risk from the older vehicles that are on the road because diesel vehicles last a long time. It will be the 2020s before we’re really seeing a lot of those older vehicles retire unless we’re going to have some aggressive programs to retrofit older vehicles, so it’s a great step that the Canadian and American governments are restricting the emissions from diesel vehicles but we’re waiting until 2010 until those cleaner vehicles are on the road.”

To view the report in full, visit:

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