World Health Organization Recognizes Diesel Exhaust from Engines Causes Cancer
Posted June 12, 2012
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization, released its finding today that diesel engine exhaust will now be classified as “carcinogenic to humans (Group 1)”. This recognition, coming from the world’s foremost authority on dangerous carcinogens, has been a longtime in coming since its 1988 finding that diesel exhaust is a “probable” human carcinogen (“Group 2A”) . In addition to all the health hazards of diesel exhaust – asthma, respiratory and cardiac illness to name a few – diesel exhaust causes lung cancer, a deadly disease. Diesel exhaust is also associated with increased risk of bladder cancer.
The state of California found diesel exhaust to be carcinogenic in 1998 based on dozens of human epidemiological studies showing long-term occupational exposure to diesel exhaust that can be associated with a 40 percent increase in the relative risk of lung cancer. These earlier findings are consistent with recent findings from several joint studies by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health showing greatly elevated risks of lung cancer among miners exposed to heavy diesel equipment. The new miner studies undoubtedly provided the final evidence necessary for the IARC finding on diesel. Those studies are also important because they evaluated smokers and non-smokers concluding that diesel exhaust exposure is similar to smoking.
With solid evidence of the health harms of diesel pollution, Dr. Christopher Wild, Director of IARC, notes that their finding “sends a strong signal that public health action is warranted.” He notes further that “this emphasis is needed globally.” With millions of old, dirty diesel engines in use around the world, we need governments to commit to the phase in of cleaner diesel fuels and replacement of older engines with much cleaner modern diesel technology that is widely available. Here in the U.S. we need sustained commitment and funding for the replacement of old, polluting diesel engines.
Every year tens of thousands of people die from exposure to diesel pollution in the U.S., and many more die from diesel exhaust around the world. These deaths and all the disease and suffering caused by diesel pollution can easily be prevented with the use of modern engine technology. It is time to retire the old smoking habits of diesel.
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