Outdoor air pollution causes cancer, the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm announced Thursday.
In the past, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has specified particular parts of pollution as carcinogenic, such as diesel exhaust. But this is the first time, an agency release said, that outdoor air pollution in its entirety has been classified as cancer-causing.
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The IARC determined there is “sufficient evidence”
to make the assessment that exposure to outdoor air pollution causes cancer. There also is an association with pollution to bladder cancer, the organization’s release said.
“The air most people breathe has become polluted with a complicated mixture of cancer-causing substances," Kurt Straif of the IARC told The Associated Press, adding that it is “the most important environmental carcinogen,”
even moreso than second-hand smoke.
Air pollution is made up of small pieces of matter and gases, and one of the biggest problems is caused by “fine particles” that are breathed deep into the lungs.
“These are difficult things for the individual to avoid,” Straif told the AP. “When I walk on a street where there's heavy pollution from diesel exhaust, I try to go a bit further away, so that's something you can do.”
Pollution levels vary considerably around the world, with the most polluted cities located in China and India, Straif told the AP. In both those countries, people are often seen wearing masks to avoid the high pollution levels.
IARC data found that 223,000 people died from lung cancer caused by air pollution in 2010, Reuters reported
Dr. Christopher Wild of the IARC told Reuters the time lag between breathing polluted air and developing cancer made it challenging to reach conclusions in studies. The evidence collected by the IARC will be used by the World Health Organization to revise its air quality guidelines.
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