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WHO sounds alarm: diesel exhaust causes lung cancer

Fumes from diesel engines cause lung cancer,the World Health Organisation has said

Written by Pritha Chatterjee | New Delhi | Published: June 14, 2012 2:39:18 am

Fumes from diesel engines cause lung cancer,the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC),based in Lyon,France,issued a notification on Tuesday identifying diesel as a confirmed carcinogen similar to asbestos and arsenic.

Experts quoted in the Western media said diesel exhaust fumes were more dangerous than secondhand cigarette smoke.

Cities in India have seen an explosion of diesel vehicles in recent years. As the gap between the prices of diesel and petrol widens,the sale of diesel variants has galloped while petrol car inventories have piled up.

IARC,which is a part of WHO,has been evaluating environmental factors associated with cancer since 1971. At a weeklong meeting of international experts that concluded on June 12 in Lyon,the agency decided to upgrade diesel fumes from their 25-year-old risk category of “probable carcinogen” (Group 2A) to “known carcinogen” (Group 1).

Dr Christopher Portier,chairman of the IARC working group,said in a statement,“The scientific evidence was compelling and the working group’s conclusion was unanimous: diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in humans.”

The working group’s decision was based on two large epidemiological studies published by the National Cancer Institute in the USA.

Scientists who were part of the deliberations said the changed categorisation implies a significant increase in the risk of lung cancer for a bigger population. Dr Robert Baan,senior peer scientist at IARC told The Indian Express,“All the experts were convinced there was at least a 30-40% greater chance of lung cancer with inhalation of diesel fumes than what was believed so far.”

“Also,where we believed heavily exposed occupational groups like mine workers and truck drivers were at risk earlier,now we have extended it to the general population,basically anybody who is within breathing range of the fumes,” Dr Baan said.

Dr Vinod Raina,head of medical oncology at AIIMS,said,“There has been no scientific study to quantify the association between diesel fumes and lung cancer in our country,though the number of diesel vehicles have increased from 10 per cent a decade ago to over 50 per cent today.”

Dr S K Jindal,head of pulmonary medicine at PGI Chandigarh,said diesel fumes have been proven to be associated with risks of cardiovascular ailments and compromised brain function.

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