Diesel exhaust fumes are 'major cancer risk' and as deadly as asbestos and mustard gas, says World Health Organisation
Diesel exhaust found to cause lung cancer and associated with an increased risk of bladder cancerWHO says the fumes belong in same category as mustard gas and asbestos
Risks are on a level with passive smoking
08:52 GMT, 13 June 2012
Diesel engine exhaust fumes cause cancer and belong in the same potentially deadly category as asbestos, arsenic and mustard gas, according to the World Health Organisation.
The France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the WHO, has reclassified diesel exhausts from 'probable' carcinogens to a group of substances that have definite links to cancer.
Research has shown that regular exposure to diesel fumes is as likely to cause cancer as passive smoking.
Health officials have now called for governments to act on 'cleaning-up' the fumes emitted from vehicle exhausts.
WHO have raised the status of diesel exhaust from 'probable carcinogen' to carcinogen
The experts, who said their decision was unanimous and based on 'compelling' scientific evidence, urged people across the world to reduce exposure to diesel fumes as much as possible.
'The (expert) 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,' it said in a statement.
The decision is a 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 fumes in the same risk category as noxious substances such as asbestos, arsenic, mustard gas, alcohol and tobacco.
'It's on the same order of magnitude as passive smoking,' said Kurt
Straif, director of the IARC department that evaluates cancer risks.
Deadly: Diesel exhaust fumes pose the same cancer risk as passive smoking
'This could be another big push for countries to clean up exhaust from
Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: 'This report, from an international panel of experts, sends a clear message that diesel fumes can cause lung cancer.
'The evidence of harmful health effects of diesel, particularly for people exposed to high levels through their jobs, has been accumulating for many years.
'But, the overall number of lung cancers caused by diesel fumes is likely to be a fraction of those caused by smoking tobacco.
'In the UK there are already guidelines in place to protect employees from the harmful effects of diesel fumes. Employers and workers should take appropriate action to minimise exposure in the workplace.'
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.
The group pointed to a large U.S study published in March by the US National
Cancer Institute. That paper analysed 12,300 miners for several decades
starting in 1947. Researchers found that miners heavily exposed to
diesel exhaust had a higher risk of dying from lung cancer.
Although diesel engine exhaust was defined by IARC as probably carcinogenic to humans – group 2A – in 1989, an advisory group had repeatedly called for a re-evaluation since 1998.
DIESEL CARS: A GLOBAL PHENOMENON
Diesel cars are popular in western Europe, where tax advantages have encouraged technological advances and a boom in demand.
Outside of Europe and India, diesel engines are almost entirely confined to commercial vehicles.
German car makers are trying to raise awareness for diesels in the United States, where the long distances travelled on highways suit diesel engines.
IARC noted that large populations all over the world are exposed to diesel exhaust in everyday life, whether through their jobs or in ambient air.
'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, their 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,' he said in a statement.
Today's announcement has caused
consternation among car and truck manufacturers, who claim that diesel
fuel engines are constantly being refined.
The global 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.
'New technology diesel engines, which use ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel, advanced engines and emissions control systems, are near zero emissions for nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and particulate matter,' he said in a statement.
Alan Baum, principal of Baum and Associates in Michigan, said it is unlikely that the IARC report will cause companies to change plans for expansion of diesel fuel in the United States.
About 5.5 per cent of new autos, including light-duty pickup trucks, sold in the United States run on diesel, said Baum, and he said that figure is expected to rise to 8 or 9 percent by 2015.
IARC said it had considered recent advances in 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.'