Agencies in London
Classification changes from ‘probable’ to group with ‘definite’ links to cancer, including asbestos
Yesterday the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that diesel engine exhaust causes cancer in humans and decided to raise its risk rating based on scientific evidence of links to lung and bladder cancer.
The cancer department of the WHO, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), changed diesel exhaust’s classification “from its group 2A of probable carcinogens to its group 1 substances that have definite links to cancer, based on scientific evidence that it causes lung cancer and is linked to bladder cancer.”
A panel of independent experts met over the last week to assess the latest scientific evidence on the potential of diesel and petrol exhausts to cause cancer. They say the decision to reclassify as a carcinogen is important because so many people breathe in diesel fumes. People affected include street pedestrians, ship passengers and crew, railway workers, truck drivers, mechanics, miners, and those who operate heavy machinery.
Dr. Kurt Straif of IARC says, “This is on the same order of magnitude as passive smoking…[and] could be another big push for countries to clean up exhaust from diesel engines.”
The last time the WHO assessed diesel exhaust was in 1989, when it was categorized as a probable carcinogen. This reclassification as a carcinogen now puts diesel exhaust into the same category as asbestos, alcohol and ultraviolet radiation.
However, the US government still considers diesel exhaust a likely carcinogen. The Environmental Protection Agency claims that new diesel engines emit fewer fumes and therefore pose less risk, but further studies are needed to evaluate potential hazards.
The panel of experts analysed published studies, animal evidence and limited human research. One of the studies, published in March by the US National Cancer Institute, analysed 12,300 miners for many decades beginning in 1947. The findings showed “miners heavily exposed to diesel exhaust had a higher risk of dying from lung cancer.”
The reclassification is bound to cause some concern for makers of cars and trucks. Diesel industry lobbyists argued that the mining study was not reliable as researchers did not have exact data on the level of the miners’ exposure in the early years of the study.
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