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Occupational exposure to carcinogens in the European Union

Abstract

OBJECTIVES To construct a computer assisted information system for the estimation of the numbers of workers exposed to established and suspected human carcinogens in the member states of the European Union (EU).

METHODS A database called CAREX (carcinogen exposure) was designed to provide selected exposure data and documented estimates of the number of workers exposed to carcinogens by country, carcinogen, and industry. CAREX includes data on agents evaluated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) (all agents in groups 1 and 2A as of February 1995, and selected agents in group 2B) and on ionising radiation, displayed across the 55 industrial classes. The 1990–3 occupational exposure was estimated in two phases. Firstly, estimates were generated by the CAREX system on the basis of national labour force data and exposure prevalence estimates from two reference countries (Finland and the United States) which had the most comprehensive data available on exposures to these agents. For selected countries, these estimates were then refined by national experts in view of the perceived exposure patterns in their own countries compared with those of the reference countries.

RESULTS About 32 million workers (23% of those employed) in the EU were exposed to agents covered by CAREX. At least 22 million workers were exposed to IARC group 1 carcinogens. The exposed workers had altogether 42 million exposures (1.3 mean exposures for each exposed worker). The most common exposures were solar radiation (9.1 million workers exposed at least 75% of working time), environmental tobacco smoke (7.5 million workers exposed at least 75% of working time), crystalline silica (3.2 million exposed), diesel exhaust (3.0 million), radon (2.7 million), and wood dust (2.6 million).

CONCLUSION These preliminary estimates indicate that in the early 1990s, a substantial proportion of workers in the EU were exposed to carcinogens.

  • exposure
  • carcinogen
  • Europe
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