Recently the IARC (part of the World Health Organization) released a publication, “Air Pollution and Cancer,” in which they definitively state that outdoor air pollution can cause cancer. It takes more than a single study or a handful of observations to get something declared definitive by the scientific community. Sometimes a wealth of research isn’t even enough.
But in the case of air pollution being labeled a carcinogen, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is one of authoritative sources—the final say, so to speak.
The air pollution they are talking about includes automobile emissions, industrial plants, power generation, and “household combustion of solid fuel,” among other things. They say all of these processes contribute different chemical pollutants to the air we breathe, many of which are known carcinogens.
“Recent estimates suggest that the disease burden due to air pollution is substantial. Exposure to ambient fine particles was recently estimated to have contributed 3.2 million premature deaths worldwide in 2010, due largely to cardiovascular disease, and 223 000 deaths from lung cancer. More than half of the lung cancer deaths attributable to ambient fine particles were projected to have been in China and other East Asian countries,” IARC reports.
The expert panel responsible for the publication reviewed 1,000 different studies and found enough evidence to definitively state that outdoor air pollution can cause cancer.
“Our task was to evaluate the air everyone breathes rather than focus on specific air pollutants,” said Dana Loomis, deputy head of the monographs section, according to AlterNet. “The results from the reviewed studies point in the same direction: the risk of developing lung cancer is significantly increased in people exposed to air pollution.”
What’s frightening about their admittance is the realization that air pollution isn’t going anywhere. For the most part, it’s getting worse around the world (although reportedly got better in the U.S. over the past several decades). Doubled rates of asthma over the past 30 years is just one result of the dirty air we breathe. Research has even linked air pollution with increased autism risk.
Accountability for air pollution rests with everyone. Whether you commute alone when you could carpool or if you are a decision maker in an industrial plant—you have a role to play in the reduction of air pollution. So too do governments—in holding corporations and stakeholders responsible for the contaminants they are placing in our air.