Avoiding smoking does not decrease all risks for cancer. Seventy percent of cancers have other causes.
Workplace exposures are significant, especially in construction. Even if they do not smoke, Laborers can be at higher risk for developing lung cancer. Silica exposure is a serious threat to anyone engaging in concrete work, blasting, stonecutting, rock drilling, quarry work and tunneling. Laborers involved in renovation and demolition can still be exposed to asbestos. Carcinogens linked to other kinds of cancer can also be found at construction sites. These include benzene, a gasoline and solvent linked to leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; cadmium, found in many industrial paints and welding fumes and linked to prostate cancer; and methylene chloride, a likely cause of cancer of the lung and liver.
Toxicological synergy – the interactive effect of multiple toxic exposures – intensifies danger. Contact with one carcinogen in the morning followed by another in the afternoon is a recipe for increased cancer risk.
Construction companies can sometimes reduce exposures by switching to non-carcinogenic substitutes. For example, toluene can be used in place of benzene. If a non-carcinogenic material cannot be found, engineering controls should be implemented. Water spray and ventilation fans reduce dust and vapors, and Laborers can also use personal protective equipment (PPE). They also should protect themselves and their families by becoming familiar with the materials with which they work and by practicing appropriate hygiene to avoid bringing toxins home. Information, including a material’s carcinogenic properties, is available on the product’s material safety data sheet. Training is required for everyone who works with hazardous materials.
Unfortunately, reducing risk at work is not always enough. The President’s Cancer Panel notes that more than 80,000 chemicals flood the marketplace and many have not been studied or regulated. As a result, people can be unwittingly and routinely exposed to numerous, unknown cancer-causing agents at their workplaces, homes and schools and in the food they eat, the water they drink and the air they breathe. The Panel suggests that this situation is far broader than is popularly recognized. While private researchers and government officials attempt to get a better handle on these risks, Laborers, their families and the public, in general, must take their own precautions.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]