WHO Officially Labels Air Pollution As Carcinogenic
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redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Prolonged exposure to outdoor air pollution and particulate matter in the atmosphere increase a person’s risk of developing lung cancer, according to the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO).
In a statement released Thursday, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said that based on a review of published research, there was “sufficient evidence” to believe that exposure to air pollution causes lung cancer, and that there was an increased risk of contracting bladder cancer as well.
As a result, the IARC has decided to classify outdoor air pollution as “carcinogenic to humans (Group 1).” The same classification was given to particulate matter, one of the primary components of that atmospheric pollution. While the exact composition of air pollution and the exposure level can “vary dramatically” from one place to another, the agency said the ruling will apply to all regions of the world.
“Our task was to evaluate the air everyone breathes rather than focus on specific air pollutants,” IARC deputy head Dana Loomis told Reuters. “The results from the reviewed studies point in the same direction: the risk of developing lung cancer is significantly increased in people exposed to air pollution.”
The IARC’s decision will place air pollution in the same category as such carcinogenic substances as cigarette smoke, ultraviolet radiation and plutonium. The WHO, the healthcare-centered arm of the United Nations, said the classification should send a clear message to international governments that it is time to act. Sources of air pollution include car exhausts, industrial and agricultural emissions, and power stations, the British news agency added.
“We consider this to be the most important environmental carcinogen, more so than passive smoking,” said Kurt Straif, the chief of the IARC department responsible for evaluating carcinogenic substances. “This is something governments and environmental agencies need to take care of. People can certainly contribute by doing things like not driving a big diesel car, but this needs much wider policies by national and international authorities.”
However, other experts say the average person’s risk of contracting cancer was exceptionally low, but the risk from air pollution – small though it might be – is virtually impossible to avoid. According to Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatistics at Harvard University’s School of Public Health who was not on the IARC panel, “You can choose not to drink or not to smoke, but you can’t control whether or not your exposed to air pollution. You can’t just decide not to breathe.
In addition to tobacco smoke, UV radiation and plutonium, other Group 1 carcinogens include asbestos, silica dust, and approximately 100 other substances, Kelland and Nebehay said. According to Loomis, regions where there was said to be relatively high exposure to air pollution and particulate matter include Asia, South Asia, North Africa, eastern North America, and some regions of Central America and Mexico.