WHO now puts air pollution in the same category as tobacco smoke, UV radiation and plutonium!
World Health Organization: Air pollution causes cancerWe already knew that air pollution killed more people than AIDS and malaria combined, but sadly the problem isn't always getting the attention it deserves. So it's good to see the World Health Organization (WHO), who last year recognized that diesel exhaust can causes lung cancer, officially label air pollution as "carcinogenic to humans".
After thoroughly reviewing the latest available scientific literature, the world’s leading experts convened by the [International Agency for Research on Cancer] (IARC) Monographs Programme concluded that there is sufficient evidence that exposure to outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer (Group 1). They also noted a positive association with an increased risk of bladder cancer.
Particulate matter, a major component of outdoor air pollution, was evaluated separately and was also classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1).
This means that air pollution is now categorized along with tobacco smoke, UV radiation and plutonium. This research on cancer is different from previous research that showed air pollution to cause heart disease and lung problems.
“The air we breathe has become polluted with a mixture of cancer-causing substances,” says Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Section. “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.”
© Smoke Control Lantern Slide Collection, ca. 1940-1950, AIS.1978.22, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh.
The most recent data suggested 223,000 deaths from lung cancer around the world were caused by air pollution, with more than half of those in Asian countries (China obviously being a big part of this).
Thankfully, in many rich countries things have been getting better; for example, smog-forming emissions from U.S. power plants have been declining for 20+ years. But in places like China, things are truly terrible and a lot of work needs to be done to allow people to breathe safe air.