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J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2009 Jul;19(5):443-57. doi: 10.1038/jes.2009.21. Epub 2009 Mar 11.

Occupational exposure to diesel engine exhaust: a literature review.

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Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Maryland, USA.


Diesel exhaust (DE) is classified as a probable human carcinogen. Aims were to describe the major occupational uses of diesel engines and give an overview of personal DE exposure levels and determinants of exposure as reported in the published literature. Measurements representative of personal DE exposure were abstracted from the literature for the following agents: elemental carbon (EC), particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxide (NO), and nitrogen dioxide (NO(2)). Information on determinants of exposure was abstracted. In total, 3528 EC, 4166 PM, 581 CO, 322 NO, and 1404 NO(2) measurements were abstracted. From the 10,001 measurements, 32% represented exposure from on-road vehicles and 68% from off-road vehicles (30% mining, 15% railroad, and 22% others). Highest levels were reported for enclosed underground work sites in which heavy equipment is used: mining, mine maintenance, and construction (EC: 27-658 microg/m(3)). Intermediate exposure levels were generally reported for above-ground (semi-) enclosed areas in which smaller equipment was run: mechanics in a shop, emergency workers in fire stations, distribution workers at a dock, and workers loading/unloading inside a ferry (generally: EC<50 microg/m(3)). Lowest levels were reported for enclosed areas separated from the source, such as drivers and train crew, or outside, such as surface mining, parking attendants, vehicle testers, utility service workers, surface construction and airline ground personnel (EC<25 microg/m(3)). The other agents showed a similar pattern. Determinants of exposure reported for enclosed situations were ventilation and exhaust after treatment devices. Reported DE exposure levels were highest for underground mining and construction, intermediate for working in above-ground (semi-) enclosed areas and lowest for working outside or separated from the source. The presented data can be used as a basis for assessing occupational exposure in population-based epidemiological studies and guide future exposure assessment efforts for industrial hygiene and epidemiological studies.

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