Blog Post #1296 – Diesel Exhaust can Alter DNA

Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine (January 2015)

Just two hours after exposure two diesel-exhaust fumes can lead to fundamental health-related changes in biology, a new study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Vancouver Coastal Health suggests.

The study found that diesel exhaust causes changes in methylation – the carbon-hydrogen “coating” that attaches to many parts of a person’s DNA – affecting about 400 genes at about 2,800 different points. In some places, it leads to more methylation, but more often, it decreases methylation, concludes the study, published in January 2015 in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology.

“The fact that DNA methylation was affected after only two hours has positive implications,” says Dr. Chris Carlsten, an associate professor in the UBC’s division of respiratory medicine and the AstraZeneca chair and occupational and environmental lung disease. “Any time you can show something happens that quickly, it means you can probably reverse it – either through a therapy, a change in environment or even diet.”

According to the UBC statement, the study seated volunteers in a polycarbonate-enclosed booth, about the size of a standard bathroom, where they breathe in diluted and aged exhaust fumes “that are about equal to the air quality along a Beijing highway or under certain conditions at busy ports, rail yards, minds and industrial sites.” The researchers examined how diesel-exhaust exposure affected methylation, which can silence or dampen a gene, preventing it from producing a protein – sometimes to a person’s benefit, sometimes not.

The study has implications for workers at risk of diesel-exhaust exposure, such as toll-booth operators, mechanics, railroad workers and ship crew members.

My opinion

I was very disturbed by this report. How many diesel mechanics, or offspring of diesel mechanics, as well as any other persons working in and around diesel fumes have had some type of DNA-altering due to constant exposure. One is too many.

This reminds me of the ship builders in the US during the second world war that were lining (spraying on) asbestos on the piping and boiler systems. Many received Asbestosis or Mesothelioma for their efforts.

I do wonder if there will be changes to exhaust ventilation protocols and limits and I also wonder if the target TWAEV (time waited average exposure value) will be tightened.

I also wonder if the governments will even mention any warnings at all.

HRS Group Inc. has a great team that can help you with all your health and safety needs. Contact Deborah toll free at 1-877-907-7744 or locally at 705-749-1259.

We can also be reached at 

Ensure your workplace is a safe place.

Remember – In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal 

CHSEP – Advanced Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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