A new report published by Cancer Care Ontario and the Occupational Cancer Research Centre is now examining how workers are exposed to certain carcinogens in the workplace and aims to help better protect workers from developing the disease while on job.
Peterborough’s chief medical officer Dr. Rosana Salvaterra delivered the details of the report titled to members of the Peterborough Public Health board at a meeting held on Wednesday night, as she suggests the study is a “first of its kind in the province.”
The report which was published earlier this month focused on the most common carcinogens found in Ontario workplaces and their contribution to occupational cancer.
Before Dr. Salvaterra dug into the details of the report, she told board members that cancer is the leading cause of death in Ontario, as more than 27,000 people die from the disease each year.
Meanwhile, Salvaterra says there are numerous studies that show the link between smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity and lack of exercise and the correlation too cancer but says there are few studies that have examined cancer-causing materials in the workplace.
“As adults we spend a third of our time in the workplace,” said Salvaterra. “So occupational exposures are a significant contributor to that cancer burden.”
The occupational cancer report looked at particular carcinogens in the workplace and put emphasis on cancer-causing elements like ultraviolet rays from the sun, asbestos, diesel exhaust and crystalline silica, all of which Salvaterra suggests are the most prominent carcinogens found across all workplaces.
“Researchers were able to quantify the exposures of workers in Ontario to significant carcinogens and were able to deduce from that the percentage of cancers that we see each year that are attributed to occupational exposures,” she said.
Solar radiation is cause for concern and effects the most workers across the province, as more than 450,000 workers are exposed to prolonged periods of direct sunlight radiation, especially in construction work and jobs like roofing in particular, where there is no shade and farmers are also heightend risk of non-melanoma skin cancer, which averages to 1,400 cases a year.
Compare that with the number of workers still working with asbestos, which says nearly 55,000 workers are at risk of cancer because of exposure to asbestos and is the cause of 630 lung cancers, 140 mesothelioma cases, 15 laryngeal cancers and less than five ovarian cancers annually in Ontario.
The General Electric plant in Peterborough has been in the spotlight recently with hundreds of cases of workers and family members seeking compensations for work-related illnesses that they say were caused by the proximity to toxins in the plant.
Salvaterra says there were no records kept at GE at the time but notes a major recommendation from the report calls for the creation of provincial registries of hazardous materials in workplaces.
“We should be keeping exposure registries,” said Salvaterra. “So 30 years from now, and 40 years from now you can actually go back and show documentation of what the worker was and was not exposed to.”
The report aims to prevent workers from developing cancer by highlighting the different approaches workers can take to protect themselves and to reduce exposure to certain carcinogens and cancer-causing agents.
The report also looked at the dangers of exposure to high level of diesel exhaust fumes, as close to 301,000 workers are exposed to the exhaust fumes and it accounts for 170 lung and 45 bladder cancer cases.
While 142,000 workers are exposed to Chrystaline Silica, a common mineral found and mined for in soil, sand, and rocks which leads to can be attributed to 200 lung cancer cases a year.
See the full report here: https://www.cancercare.on.ca/ocs/csurv/info/cancer_risk_factors_in_ontario/occupationreport
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