Ottawa — Chemical industry workers who are exposed to the chemical vapors from the oil sands or from diesel engines are at higher risk of developing asthma or other respiratory diseases, a new study finds.
“If they are exposed at any time to vapors of this volatile compound, it can lead to lung disease, bronchitis, chronic bronchiolitis, and more,” said Dr. Michael B. Tromp, a pulmonary specialist at McGill University in Montreal.
“We’ve known for a while that there are a number of chemicals, including formaldehyde and benzene, that are known to cause lung damage.”
Trompy is one of the authors of a study that examined exposures to benzene from industrial processes at a Calgary oil sands refinery and found benzene in the air.
The oil sands, the second-largest oil field in North America, is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world and one of Canada’s largest oil reserves.
The oilsands are also among the most polluted sources of air pollution in the country, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, looked at benzene and formaldehyde in air samples collected from refinery workers at Calgary’s Hazelwood Refinery and two oil sands plants, and found that benzene exposure is linked to lung problems including asthma, bronchiectasis and COPD, among other illnesses.
The toxic vapors, which are known as aerosols, can be emitted from burning oil sands crude oil and from diesel vehicles.
A toxic air pollution study was conducted in Alberta last year.
The authors say it’s important for people to be aware of the potential risks from benzene because of its potential long-term health effects.
The Canadian Occupational Health and Safety Commission is looking into benzene as part of its investigation into the refinery workers.
The commission said it will make recommendations to the federal government.