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Short report
How serious are we about protecting workers health? The case of diesel engine exhaust
  1. Roel Vermeulen,
  2. Lützen Portengen
  1. Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Dr Roel Vermeulen, Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands; r.c.h.vermeulen{at}


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.

  • occupational Health
  • vehicle emissions
  • lung diseases
  • interstitial

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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  • Contributors RV and LP perceived the idea of the short report, performed the calculations and drafted and approved the final version of the report.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.