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Risk Anal. 2001 Feb;21(1):1-18.

Multi-stage model estimates of lung cancer risk from exposure to diesel exhaust, based on a U.S. railroad worker cohort.

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  • 1Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency, Oakland 94612, USA.


A California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) report concluded that a reasonable and likely explanation for the increased lung cancer rates in numerous epidemiological studies is a causal association between diesel exhaust exposure and lung cancer. A version of the present analysis, based on a retrospective study of a U.S. railroad worker cohort, provided the Cal/EPA report with some of its estimates of lung cancer risk associated with diesel exhaust. The individual data for that cohort study furnish information on age, employment, and mortality for 56,000 workers over 22 years. Related studies provide information on exposure concentrations. Other analyses of the original cohort data reported finding no relation between measures of diesel exhaust and lung cancer mortality, while a Health Effects Institute report found the data unsuitable for quantitative risk assessment. None of those three works used multistage models, which this article uses in finding a likely quantitative, positive relations between lung cancer and diesel exhaust. A seven-stage model that has the last or next-to-last stage sensitive to diesel exhaust provides best estimates of increase in annual mortality rate due to each unit of concentration, for bracketing assumptions on exposure. Using relative increases of risk and multiplying by the background lung cancer mortality rates for California, the 95% upper confidence limit of the 70-year unit risks for lung cancer is estimated to be in the range 2.1 x 10(-4) (microg/m3)(-1) to 5.5 x 10(-4) (microg/m3)(-1). These risks constitute the low end of those in the Cal/EPA report and are below those reported by previous investigators whose estimates were positive using human data.

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