IARC Officially Classifies Outdoor Air Pollution as a Carcinogen

November 14, 2013- The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently announced that it has classified outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans. After a thorough review of the latest scientific literature, the IARC, the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, found “sufficient evidence” that exposure to outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer and is associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer.

This is the first time that experts have classified outdoor air pollution as a cause of cancer, according to IARC. The agency had previously evaluated several chemicals and mixtures that occur in outdoor air pollution -- including diesel-engine exhaust, solvents, metals, and dusts.

“Our task was to evaluate the air everyone breathes rather than focus on specific air pollutants,” explains Dr. Dana Loomis, Deputy Head of the Monographs Section. “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.”

Air pollution is already known to increase risks for a wide range of diseases, such as respiratory and heart diseases. Studies indicate that exposure levels have increased in parts of the world, particularly in rapidly industrializing countries with large populations. In 2010, 223,000 deaths from lung cancer worldwide resulted from air pollution.

“Classifying outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans is an important step,” says 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 IARC evaluation applies worldwide even though “the composition of air pollution and levels of exposure can vary dramatically between locations,” the agency concludes.

The main sources of outdoor air pollution come from: transportation, stationary power generation, industrial and agricultural emissions, and residential heating and cooking, the IARC reports.

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