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International agency declares diesel exhaust carcinogenic

After reviewing the latest peer-reviewed research during an eight-day meeting that concluded Tuesday in Lyon, France, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared diesel exhaust to be carcinogenic to humans (see PDF of report).

The meeting followed publication of a long-delayed study by scientists at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Atlanta, Georgia (see Embattled scientists publish study linking (surprise) diesel exhaust and cancer). Results from the US study contribute to a growing body of evidence on the harmful impacts of diesel exhaust, and this week nearly two dozen experts concurred that it was time for an upgrade. The IARC, which is part of the World Health Organization, last weighed in on the matter in 1988 when it classified diesel emissions as probable carcinogens.

This week’s determination applies specifically to lung cancer, but the IARC also cited evidence linking diesel exhaust with an increased risk of bladder cancer. Separately, the committee decided not to change the status of gasoline exhaust, which remains on the list of possible carcinogens.

Most of the data focused on workers such as miners who are exposed to higher levels of exhaust, but the evidence suggests that reducing diesel emissions would benefit the general population, says Kurt Straif, who heads the programme that conducted the review at the IARC. But the committee’s decision is purely scientific and carries no regulatory impact. International bodies such as the World Health Organization will use the new determination as they make policy recommendations in the future, but ultimately it will be up to regulatory agencies at the national level to decide how to proceed.

Photo: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation


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