A retrospective cohort study of lung cancer and diesel exhaust exposure in railroad workers

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1988 Apr;137(4):820-5. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm/137.4.820.


The risk of lung cancer as a result of exposure to diesel exhaust from railroad locomotives was assessed in a cohort of 55,407 white male railroad workers 40 to 64 yr of age in 1959 who had started railroad service 10 to 20 years earlier. The cohort was traced until the end of 1980, and death certificates were obtained for 88% of 19,396 deaths; 1,694 lung cancer cases were identified. Yearly railroad job from 1959 to death or retirement was available from the Railroad Retirement Board, and served as an index of diesel exhaust exposure. Directly standardized rates and a proportional hazards model were used to calculate the relative risk of lung cancer based on work in a job with diesel exhaust exposure beginning in 1959. A relative risk of 1.45 (95% CI = 1.11, 1.89) for lung cancer was obtained in the group of workers 40 to 44 yr of age in 1959, the group with the longest possible duration of diesel exposure. The cohort was selected to minimize the effect of past railroad asbestos exposure, and analysis with workers with possible asbestos exposure excluded resulted in a similarly elevated risk. Workers with 20 yr or more elapsed since 1959, the effective start of diesel exposure for the cohort, had the highest relative risk. These results taken in conjunction with other reported results support the hypothesis that occupational exposure to diesel exhaust results in a small but significantly elevated risk for lung cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asbestos / adverse effects
  • Carcinogens, Environmental*
  • Cause of Death
  • Female
  • Gasoline / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Petroleum / adverse effects*
  • Railroads*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time Factors


  • Carcinogens, Environmental
  • Gasoline
  • Petroleum
  • Asbestos