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IARC says air pollution causes cancer

In October the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a specialist agency of the World Health Organization, classified outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans.

The statement was released after a thorough review of the latest scientific evidence convened by the IARC Monographs Programme. Particulate matter – a main component of outdoor air pollution – was evaluated separately and was also classified as carcinogenic. The statement concludes that there is sufficient evidence that exposure to outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer (Group 1). The expert authors also noted a positive association with an increased risk of bladder cancer.

IARC has already classified many chemicals and mixtures that can be components of air pollution, including diesel engine exhaust, solvents, metals, and dusts. But this is the first time that experts have classified air pollution as a cause of cancer, according to a report by Reuters press agency.

The predominant sources of outdoor air pollution are transportation, stationary power generation, industrial and agricultural emissions, and residential heating and cooking. Some air pollutants have natural sources, as well.

“Classifying outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans is an important step,” stresses IARC Director Dr Christopher Wild. “There are effective ways to reduce air pollution and, given the scale of the exposure affecting people worldwide, this report should send a strong signal to the international community to take action without further delay.”

The European Respiratory Society reacted to the announcement with a press release, which noted that the announcement came in the same week as the publication of the European Environment Agency (EEA) Air Quality in Europe – 2013 report, which shows that more than 90% of people in European cities breathe air which is dangerous to their health, and the results of the ESCAPE project, which shows air pollution causes lower birth weight (see separate article).

The press release entitled “IARC: Outdoor air pollution a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths” is available here

Originally posted on 27 November 2013

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