June 20, 2012

WHO: Diesel exhaust linked to lung cancer

Following a week-long meeting of international experts, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), classified diesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence that exposure is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer.

“The main studies that led to this conclusion were in highly exposed workers,” said Dr. Kurt Straif, head of the IARC Monographs Program. “However, we have learned from other carcinogens, such as radon, that initial studies showing a risk in heavily exposed occupational groups were followed by positive findings for the general population. Therefore actions to reduce exposures should encompass workers and the general population.”

Exposure to diesel exhaust occurs in everyday life, through motor vehicle exhausts as well as exhausts from other diesel engines, including from other modes of transport (e.g. diesel trains and ships) and from power generators.

There has been mounting concern about the cancer-causing potential of diesel exhaust, particularly based on findings in epidemiological studies of workers exposed in various settings. This was re-emphasized by the publication in March 2012 of the results of a large US National Cancer Institute/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study of occupational exposure to such emissions in underground miners, which showed an increased risk of death from lung cancer in exposed workers.

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