Monumental ruling on Diesel fumes and Lung cancer

From Risks Newsletter by Rory O’Neill

A decision to award compensation to the widow of a bus maintenance worker who died of diesel exhaust-related lung cancer has been hailed as a ‘monumental’ breakthrough by his union.

Anthony Nigro, a member of Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) Local 100 in New York, USA, died a few months after retiring in 2012. His oncologist told his widow, Dorota, he believed diesel exhaust exposure in his 28 years working for the New York City Transit Authority was the cause of his cancer.

Lawyer Robert Grey, who filed a workers’ compensation claim on behalf of the family, said this is “the first case where a Workers’ Compensation Board, or any other court, has recognised the cause and effect of diesel to occupational disease.”

The company contested the claim, noting the victim’s history of smoking. But an expert providing testimony for the family said his job provided “ample exposure… to diesel exhaust emission.” The expert witness said that while smoking was also “a likely contributor” to the lung cancer, the diesel emissions were “more likely than not a significant contributing factor in causing or aggravating” Mr Nigro’s illness and death.

In a judgment that is not being contested by the firm, Judge Jay Leibowitz ruled in favour of the family and awarded them a weekly benefit of $773, $100,000 in backdated benefits and $6,000 in funeral expenses.

Dr Frank Goldsmith, director of occupational health for the TWU local, said: “This case is really a monumental decision. It’s reminiscent of where we were with asbestos in the 1970s.” He added: “We need to find out more about diesel and cancer trends among transit workers. We need to know how many of our members have been stricken by lung cancer, and target which job titles those cancers came from.”

The family of a Canadian miner who died of diesel exhaust linked lung cancer was awarded compensation last year. In June 2012, an expert panel convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified diesel fume as a top rated ‘Group 1’ carcinogen.

A study published in 2013 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives concluded almost 5 per cent of lung cancer deaths in the United States and the United Kingdom may be due to workplace exposure to diesel exhaust.

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