Do Canadian border agents face a higher risk of getting cancer?

Study will look for connection at Canada's border crossings

Do Canadian border agents face a higher risk of getting cancer?

Two leading unions in collaboration with the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) are initiating a study to explore potential cancer risks among Canadian border workers, reports CBC News.

The research addresses long-time agent concerns that long-term exposure to environmental pollutants, especially diesel fumes from freight trucks, may be impacting the health of these employees.

The study is a joint effort by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU), with the investigation set to commence later this year.

Alissa Howe, president of the CIU's Windsor branch and a former border services officer at the Ambassador Bridge, emphasized the importance of this research. "I, as well as many employees, believe that there may be a correlation to the exposures in the workplace and the rates of cancer we are seeing," Howe told CBC.

International agencies have identified diesel as known cancer-causer

The concerns are not unfounded, as diesel exhaust has been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a known carcinogen.

"When we talk about breast cancer, we don't talk about environmental or workplace exposures," said Jane McArthur, toxics program director at the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment in an interview with CBC.

McArthur wrote her 2021 doctoral thesis on the connection between breast cancer and women who worked at the Ambassador Bridge, the crossing at Windsor, Ontario which sees some 10,000 vehicles every day.

McArthur told CBC News that advocating for a broader approach to understanding cancer causatives beyond genetics and lifestyle.

Canada Border Services Agency to revisit issue with cancer connection

Meanwhile, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) stated they contracted an industrial hygienist for an air quality assessment in 2019, which found that "the levels of all chemicals were below the Occupational Exposure Limits, even during peak traffic periods," according to CBC News. However, the agency said in a statement that it is open to revisiting past findings should new information emerge that indicates a potential health risk.

Ontario recently increased provincial coverage for cancer for firefighters and fire inspectors, joining B.C., Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.  

The International Labour Organization (ILO) released new findings last month revealing that 70 percent of the world’s workers are going to be affected by a “cocktail” of climate-change related hazards, including environmental toxins like vehicle emissions.

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