Air pollution can cause cancer, says WHO

Pollutants from traffic and industrial fumes are linked to lung and bladder cancer, says agency

Smog over  downtown Los Angeles. Outdoor air pollution has been officially classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organisation. Photograph:  Reuters.

Smog over downtown Los Angeles. Outdoor air pollution has been officially classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organisation. Photograph: Reuters.

Fri, Oct 18, 2013, 01:05


Outdoor air pollution has been officially classified as carcinogenic by the cancer arm of the World Health Organisation.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said air pollution from traffic and industrial fumes was a definite cause of lung cancer and also linked to bladder cancer. The strong verdict from IARC, a cautious body that pronounces only when the evidence is strong, will put pressure on governments to take action.

“The air we breathe has become polluted with a mixture of cancer-causing substances,” said Dr Kurt Straif, head of the IARC monographs section, which assesses evidence and publishes official warnings.

“We now know that outdoor air pollution is not only a major risk to health in general, but also a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths.”

Air pollution is already known to increase the risks for other diseases, including heart and respiratory disease. The numbers of those exposed to air pollution have risen rapidly as countries have industrialised.

The most recent data suggests there were 233,000 deaths from lung cancer caused by air pollution around the world in 2010.


Puts out warnings
IARC monitors studies on cancer risks and issues official monographs when it has come to conclusions about a potential carcinogen. It has put out warnings about individual chemicals in the air. Diesel engine exhaust, solvents, metals and dusts have all been labelled carcinogenic. This is the first time it has classified air pollution in general as a cause of cancer.

The main sources of air pollution are traffic, power stations, industrial and agricultural emissions and heating and cooking fumes from the home, the IARC said. The levels of air pollution vary from place to place, but every country in the world was affected and should do something about it, it said.

– (Guardian service)