A LINK between air pollution and cancer has been identified in a new study by Scottish scientists, which was published yesterday.

Stirling University staff discovered new evidence of air pollution and cancer being connected as part of occupational health research.

The team, from the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, analysed the case of a woman who developed breast cancer after spending 20 years working as a border guard at the busiest commercial border crossing in North America.

The woman was one of five other border guards – at least – who developed breast cancer within 30 months of each other and, at another nearby crossing, a cluster of seven other cases was noted.

Dr Michael Gilbertson, who worked with colleague Dr Jim Brophy, said their findings “infer a causal relationship” between breast cancer and very high exposures to traffic-related air pollution containing mammary carcinogens while a link between nightshift work and cancer was also identified.

Gilbertson said: “This new research indicates the role of traffic-related air pollution in contributing to the increasing incidence of breast cancer in the general population.

“With this new knowledge, industry and government can plan for new designs for industrial and commercial facilities to cut down on the occupational exposures to traffic-related air pollution and for scheduling shift work to minimise disruption of sleep patterns.”

Gilbertson and Brophy focused on the worker compensation case of the woman, who was employed by the Canada Border Services Agency for two decades at the Ambassador Bridge, which crosses the Detroit River between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan.

The bridge carries 12,000 trucks and 15,000 cars each day. The air pollution is severe and border guards in the traffic booths inhale many carcinogens, including those that are linked to breast cancer.

The study stated: “The cluster of cases in staff at the bridge was 16-times higher than the rate in the rest of the country – there is less than a one in 10,000 probability that this could have occurred by chance.

“In addition, the clusters were characterised by breast cancer cases that were early onset and pre-menopausal with recurrences.”

The woman used as the subject for the study was diagnosed with her first bout of breast cancer at the age of 44 and second at 51.

She nevertheless lost her case for compensation.

Gilbertson added: “These outbreaks of breast cancer represent a new occupational disease. There is much more research to be undertaken.

“This kind of forensic research depends on asking new questions based on conclusions from the existing evidence and a willingness to follow leads into unfamiliar areas.”