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13-06-2012 | General practice | Article

Cancer experts call for global action on diesel fumes


International Agency for Research on Cancer

MedWire News: Diesel exhaust fumes have been classified as carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), following a week-long meeting of international experts.

The group concluded that there is "sufficient evidence" (group 1) to show that exposure to diesel engine exhaust is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer.

Discussing the decision in an interview on the IARC website, Christopher Portier, Chairman of the IARC Working Group, said that "the scientific evidence was compelling and the Working Group's conclusion was unanimous: diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in humans." He continued: "Given the additional health impacts from diesel particulates, exposure to this mixture of chemicals should be reduced worldwide."

In 1988, the IARC, which is part of the World Health Organization, classified diesel exhaust as "probably carcinogenic to humans." There has since been mounting concern about its cancer-causing potential. This was highlighted in a recent study by the US National Cancer Institute/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, as reported by MedWire News which showed an increased risk for death from lung cancer among underground miners exposed to diesel exhaust.

Indeed, Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Program, said that the majority of studies that led to their classification of diesel exhaust as carcinogenic were in highly exposed workers.

"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," he added.

The Working Group reviewed the scientific evidence for a link between diesel exhaust and cancer. In addition to finding sufficient evidence that diesel exhaust causes lung cancer, the group also found more limited evidence of a link with an increased risk for bladder cancer.

In addition, the Working Group concluded that gasoline exhaust was "possibly carcinogenic to humans" (Group 2B), a finding that is unchanged from the previous evaluation in 1989.

IARC Direct Christopher Wild said in a press statement that "while IARC's remit is to establish the evidence-base for regulatory decisions at national and international level, today's conclusion sends a strong signal that public health action is warranted.

"This emphasis is needed globally, including among the more vulnerable populations in developing countries where new technology and protective measures may otherwise take many years to be adopted."

By Laura Cowen

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