Fifth Circuit Clears Path for Diesel Exhaust Study

By Robyn Hagan Cain on March 15, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Diesel exhaust is bad for you. Allegedly.

If you hadn't already guessed that based on the fact that diesel exhaust is a smelly cloud -- and smelly clouds are generally hard on the lungs -- then you should thank the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for green-lighting the release of a study (20 years in the making) from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Yes, NCI and NIOSH started the study back in the Dark Ages, when we were naive enough to believe that Pluto was a planet. It was finally released last week after years of legal battles between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Mining Awareness Resource Group (MARG). The study -- which claims heavy exposure to diesel exhaust increased risk of death from lung cancer among non-metal miners -- could prompt the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to take a closer look at diesel exhaust during its June meeting. IARC currently classifies diesel exhaust as "probably carcinogenic to humans," reports The Washington Post.

So how did the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals get involved in this case?

As diesel exhaust is prevalent in mining, MARG spent years duking it out with the government in court, trying to prevent the study's publication. Lafayette-based District Court Judge Richard Haik, Sr. helped MARG in that crusade by granting rights to pre-publication review of the diesel exhaust research to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce, as well as mining companies and their scientists. Last year, Judge Haik issued a contempt order against the Department of Health and Human Services, (NCI and NIOSH's parent agency) for deliberately withholding materials from the House committee, reports The Washington Post.

On February 29, however, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed that contempt order. One week later, NCI and NIOSH published the study, reports

We understand skepticism about scientific studies after the Climategate hullabaloo, but are mining companies and Congress the proper panels for reviewing a study about whether diesel exhaust is carcinogenic? How do lawsuits and politicians make a study more reliable than peer review?

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