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Many Ontario workers exposed to cancer-causing hazards: report

According to a report by Cancer Care Ontario and the Occupational Cancer Research Centre, asbestos, diesel engine exhaust and silica are putting Ontario workers at risk from various cancers


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TORONTO—Thousands of Ontario workers are exposed to cancer-causing hazards in the workplace.

This is according to a new report released Oct. 4 by Cancer Care Ontario (CCO), the provincial government’s advisor on cancer care and prevention, and its partner, the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC).

The report cites several carcinogens Ontario workers are exposed to which it argues are leading to cancer cases:

Asbestos: Fewer than 55,000 workers are exposed to asbestos, but the report finds it is the cause of approximately 630 lung cancers, 140 mesotheliomas, 15 laryngeal cancers and less than five ovarian cancers annually in Ontario. Most occupational exposure occurs in construction, primarily due to the maintenance, renovation and modification of existing public, residential and commercial buildings.

Diesel engine exhaust exposure: According to the report, exposure to diesel engine exhaust affects about 301,000 workers and accounts for an estimated 170 lung and 45 bladder cancer cases each year. The burden is highest in the mining sector, as well as transportation and warehousing.

Silica: The report finds 142,000 Ontario workers are exposed to fine crystalline silica dusts, primarily in the construction, manufacturing and mining sectors, which causes almost 200 lung cancer cases each year.

“Occupational exposures are associated with a substantial and often overlooked burden of cancer in Ontario. These cancers are almost entirely preventable,” said Dr. Paul Demers, director, Occupational Cancer Research Centre.

The OCRC and CCO’s joint report also proposes four policy recommendations to help reduce the burden of occupational cancers:

  • Strengthening occupational exposure limits so they are up to date, strict and based on evidence of health effects.
  • Reducing or eliminating the use of toxic substances in the workplace.
  • Creating registries of worker exposure to occupational carcinogens for tracking and monitoring purposes.
  • Including construction workers and employers in the Designated Substances regulation—an Ontario government regulation stipulating practices that need to be adhered to by both employer and employee when hazardous substances are present in the workplace.

“The policy recommendations in this report have been developed with several sectors in mind, and it is our hope that this information will be a call to action for governments, employers and other health and safety organizations to drive change and help prevent future occupational cancers among Ontario workers,” said Alice Peter, director, Population Health and Prevention, Cancer Care Ontario.


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