Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease mortality in diesel-exposed railroad workers

Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Jul;114(7):1013-7. doi: 10.1289/ehp.8743.


Diesel exhaust is a mixture of combustion gases and ultrafine particles coated with organic compounds. There is concern whether exposure can result in or worsen obstructive airway diseases, but there is only limited information to assess this risk. U.S. railroad workers have been exposed to diesel exhaust since diesel locomotives were introduced after World War II, and by 1959, 95% of the locomotives were diesel. We conducted a case-control study of railroad worker deaths between 1981 and 1982 using U.S. Railroad Retirement Board job records and next-of-kin smoking, residential, and vitamin use histories. There were 536 cases with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and 1,525 controls with causes of death not related to diesel exhaust or fine particle exposure. After adjustment for age, race, smoking, U.S. Census region of death, vitamin use, and total years off work, engineers and conductors with diesel-exhaust exposure from operating trains had an increased risk of COPD mortality. The odds of COPD mortality increased with years of work in these jobs, and those who had worked >/= 16 years as an engineer or conductor after 1959 had an odds ratio of 1.61 (95% confidence interval, 1.12-2.30) . These results suggest that diesel-exhaust exposure contributed to COPD mortality in these workers. Further study is needed to assess whether this risk is observed after exposure to exhaust from later-generation diesel engines with modern emission controls.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Humans
  • Occupational Diseases / mortality*
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / mortality*
  • Railroads*
  • Vehicle Emissions / adverse effects*


  • Vehicle Emissions