Lung cancer mortality and exposure to synthetic metalworking fluid and biocides: controlling for the healthy worker survivor effect

Occup Environ Med. 2018 Oct;75(10):730-735. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2017-104812. Epub 2018 May 9.


Objectives: Synthetic metalworking fluids (MWFs), widely used to cool and lubricate industrial machining and grinding operations, have been linked with increased risk of several cancers. Estimates of their relation with lung cancer, however, are inconsistent. Controlling for the healthy worker survivor effect, we examined the relations between lung cancer mortality and exposure to synthetic MWF, as well as to biocides added to water-based fluids to control microbial growth, in a cohort of autoworkers. Biocides served as a marker for endotoxin, which has reported antitumour effects, and were hypothesised to be the reason prior studies found reduced lung cancer risk associated with exposure to synthetic fluids.

Methods: Using the parametric g-formula, we estimated risk ratios (RRs) comparing cumulative lung cancer mortality under no intervention with what would have occurred under hypothetical interventions reducing exposure to zero (ie, a ban) separately for two exposures: synthetic fluids and biocides. We also specified an intervention on synthetic MWF and biocides simultaneously to estimate joint effects.

Results: Under a synthetic MWF ban, we observed decreased lung cancer mortality risk at age 86, RR=0.96 (0.91-1.01), but when we also intervened to ban biocides, the RR increased to 1.03 (0.95-1.11). A biocide-only ban increased lung cancer mortality (RR=1.07 (1.00-1.16)), with slightly larger RR in younger ages.

Conclusions: Findings suggest a modest positive association for synthetic MWF with lung cancer mortality, contrary to the negative associations reported in earlier studies. Biocide exposure, however, was inversely associated with risk of lung cancer mortality.

Keywords: cancer; cutting fluids; epidemiology; longitudinal studies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Disinfectants / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Healthy Worker Effect
  • Humans
  • Lubricants / toxicity*
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Male
  • Metallurgy*
  • Michigan / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / mortality*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Disinfectants
  • Lubricants