WHO: Diesel exhaust causes lung cancer

Exhaust fumes from diesel engines can cause lung cancer, according to a thorough assessment by World Health Organization (WHO) experts. At a meeting in June, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the WHO, reclassified diesel exhausts from its group 2A of probable carcinogens to its group 1 of substances that definitely are linked to cancer.

The decision came after a week-long meeting of independent experts who assessed the latest scientific evidence on the cancer-causing potential of diesel and gasoline exhausts.
The IARC working group found that diesel exhaust is a cause of lung cancer and also noted a positive association with an increased risk of bladder cancer.

Dr Christopher Portier, Chairman of the IARC working group, said in a statement that “the scientific evidence was compelling and the conclusion was unanimous: diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in humans. Given the additional health impacts from diesel particulates, exposure to this mixture of chemicals should be reduced worldwide”.

Large populations all over the world are exposed to diesel exhaust every day. In its press release, IARC noted that people are exposed not only to motor vehicle exhausts but also to exhausts from other diesel engines, such as diesel trains and ships, and from power generators.

IARC’s director, Christopher Wild, said that the decision to classify diesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic to humans “sends a strong signal that public health action is warranted,” and that “this emphasis is needed globally, including among the more vulnerable populations in developing countries where new technology and protective measures may otherwise take many years to be adopted”.

Gasoline exhaust fumes should according to IARC be classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, which is two risk categories below diesel exhaust, a finding that was unchanged from its previous assessment in 1989.

Source: WHO IARC press release No. 213, 12 June 2012

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