Diesel Exhaust Fumes Cause Lung Cancer, WHO Says
Author: Kate Kelland
Diesel engine fumes can cause lung cancer and belong in the same
potentially deadly category as asbestos, arsenic and mustard gas,
World Health Organisation (WHO) experts said on Tuesday.
In an announcement that caused concern in the auto industry, the
France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part
of the WHO, reclassified diesel exhausts from its group 2A of probable
carcinogens to its group 1 of substances that have definite links to
The experts, who said their decision was unanimous and based on
"compelling" scientific evidence, urged people worldwide to reduce
their exposure to diesel fumes as much as possible.
"The working group found that diesel exhaust is a cause of lung cancer
and also noted a positive association with an increased risk of
bladder cancer," IARC said in a statement.
The decision was the result of a week-long meeting of independent
experts who assessed the latest scientific evidence on the
cancer-causing potential of diesel and gasoline exhausts.
It puts diesel exhaust fumes in the same risk category as a number of
other noxious substances including asbestos, arsenic, mustard gas,
alcohol and tobacco.
Christopher Portier, chairman of the IARC working group, said the
group's conclusion "was unanimous, that diesel engine exhaust causes
lung cancer in humans".
"Given the additional health impacts from diesel particulates,
exposure to this mixture of chemicals should be reduced worldwide," he
said in a statement.
PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE
Diesel cars are mainly popular in western Europe, where tax advantages
have boosted technological advances and demand.
Outside of Europe and India, diesel engines are almost entirely
confined to commercial vehicles - mostly because of the fuel's greater
efficiency. German carmakers are trying to raise awareness of the fuel
in the United States, where the long distances travelled on highways
suit diesel engines.
The European Automobile Manufacturers' Association said it was
surprised by the WHO announcement and the industry would "have to
study the findings in all their details".
"The latest diesel technology is really very clean," said spokeswoman
Sigrid de Vries, adding the industry had been working on technologies
to address health concerns.
Sean McAlinden, an analyst with the Center for Automotive Research in
Michigan, said about 2 to 2.5 percent of light vehicles in the United
States had diesel engines, but that was expected to rise to 8.5
percent by 2020.
IARC said large populations all over the world are exposed to diesel
exhaust every day.
"People are exposed not only to motor vehicle exhausts but also to
exhausts from other diesel engines...(such as diesel trains and ships)
and from power generators," it said.
IARC's director Christopher Wild said that against this background,
Tuesday's conclusion "sends a strong signal that public health action
"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," he
said in a statement.
DIESEL HAS CLEANED UP
For about 20 years, diesel engine exhaust was defined by IARC as
probably carcinogenic to humans - group 2A - but an IARC advisory
group has repeatedly recommended diesel engine exhaust as a high
priority for re-evaluation since 1998.
The auto industry had argued diesel fumes should be given a less
high-risk rating to reflect tighter emissions standards.
Reacting to the decision, Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the
Washington-based Diesel Technology Forum said diesel engine and
equipment makers, fuel refiners and emissions control technology
makers have invested billions of dollars in research into technologies
and strategies to reduce emissions.
The health charity Cancer Research UK welcomed the IARC move and said
the evidence of harmful health effects of diesel had been accumulating
for many years. But it added that "the overall number of lung cancers
caused by diesel fumes is likely to be a fraction of those caused by
Cancer killed 7.6 million people worldwide in 2008, the most recent
year for which the WHO has full data. Lung cancer was the most deadly
type, accounting for 18 percent of cancer deaths.
IARC said it had considered recent advances in diesel technology which
had cut levels of particulates and chemicals in exhaust fumes,
particularly in developed economies, but said it was not yet clear how
these might translate into health effects.
"Research into this question is needed," it said. "In addition,
existing fuels and vehicles without these modifications will take many
years to be replaced, particularly in less developed countries, where
regulatory measures are currently also less stringent."
IARC said gasoline exhaust fumes should be classified as "probably
carcinogenic to humans", a finding that was unchanged from its
previous assessment in 1989.
(Additional reporting by Christiaan Hetzner in Frankfurt, Laurence
Frost in Paris and Bernie Woodall in Detroit.; Editing by Andrew
Heavens and Roger Atwood)
= -- = -- = -- = -- = -- = --
IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans
VOLUME 105: DIESEL AND GASOLINE ENGINE EXHAUSTS AND SOME NITROARENES
Lyon, France: 5-12 June 2012
PRESS RELEASE N =81=E2=80=B9 213
12 June 2012
IARC: DIESEL ENGINE EXHAUST CARCINOGENIC
Lyon, France, June 12, 2012 =81] =81] After a week-long meeting of
international experts, the International Agency for Research on Cancer
(IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), today
classified diesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1),
based on sufficient evidence that exposure is associated with an
increased risk for lung cancer.
In 1988, IARC classified diesel exhaust as probably carcinogenic to
humans (Group 2A). An Advisory Group which reviews and recommends
future priorities for the IARC Monographs Program had recommended
diesel exhaust as a high priority for re-evaluation since 1998.
There has been mounting concern about the cancer-causing potential of
diesel exhaust, particularly based on findings in epidemiological
studies of workers exposed in various settings. This was re-emphasized
by the publication in March 2012 of the results of a large US National
Cancer Institute/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
study of occupational exposure to such emissions in underground
miners, which showed an increased risk of death from lung cancer in
exposed workers (1).
The scientific evidence was reviewed thoroughly by the Working Group
and overall it was concluded that there was sufficient evidence in
humans for the carcinogenicity of diesel exhaust. The Working Group
found that diesel exhaust is a cause of lung cancer (sufficient
evidence) and also noted a positive association (limited evidence)
with an increased risk of bladder cancer (Group 1).
The Working Group concluded that gasoline exhaust was possibly
carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), a finding unchanged from the
previous evaluation in 1989.
Large populations are exposed to diesel exhaust in everyday life,
whether through their occupation or through the ambient air. People
are exposed not only to motor vehicle exhausts but also to exhausts
from other diesel engines, including from other modes of transport
(e.g. diesel trains and ships) and from power generators.
Given the Working Group =81fs rigorous, independent assessment of the
science, governments and other decision-makers have a valuable
evidence-base on which to consider environmental standards for diesel
exhaust emissions and to continue to work with the engine and fuel
manufacturers towards those goals.
Increasing environmental concerns over the past two decades have
resulted in regulatory action in North America, Europe and elsewhere
with successively tighter emission standards for both diesel and
gasoline engines. There is a strong interplay between standards and
technology . standards drive technology and new technology enables
more stringent standards. For diesel engines, this required changes in
the fuel such as marked decreases in sulfur content, changes in engine
design to burn diesel fuel more efficiently and reductions in
emissions through exhaust control technology.
However, while the amount of particulates and chemicals are reduced
with these changes, it is not yet clear how the quantitative and
qualitative changes may translate into altered health effects;
research into this question is needed. In addition, existing fuels and
vehicles without these modifications will take many years to be
replaced, particularly in less developed countries, where regulatory
measures are currently also less stringent. It is notable that many
parts of the developing world lack regulatory standards, and data on
the occurrence and impact of diesel exhaust are limited.
Dr Christopher Portier, Chairman of the IARC working Group, stated
that "The scientific evidence was compelling and the Working Group=E2=80™s
conclusion was unanimous: diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in
humans." Dr Portier continued: "Given the additional health impacts
from diesel particulates, exposure to this mixture of chemicals should
be reduced worldwide."(2)
Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Program, indicated that
"The main studies that led to this conclusion 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."
Dr Christopher Wild, Director, IARC, said that "while IARC=E2=80™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."
The summary of the evaluation will appear in The Lancet Oncology as an
online publication ahead of print on June 15, 2012
(1) JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst (2012) doi:10.1093/jnci/djs034
JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst (2012) doi: 10.1093/jnci/djs035
(2) Dr Portier is Director of the National Center for Environmental
Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USA).
For more information, please contact:
Dr Kurt Straif, IARC Monographs Section, at +33 472 738 507, or straifk**At_Symbol_Here**iarc.fr;
Dr Lamia Tallaa, IARC Monographs Section, at +33 472 738 385, or
Nicolas Gaudin, IARC Communications Group, at +33 472 738 478, or com**At_Symbol_Here**iarc.fr;
Fadela Chaib, WHO News Team, at +41 79 475 55 56, or chaibf**At_Symbol_Here**who.int.
Link to the audio file posted shortly after the media briefing:
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
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