On October 17, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), declared what most tri-state residents had a hunch of but didn’t want to say: air pollution causes lung cancer. The IARC reviewed over 1000 papers from 5 continents and conducted many epidemiological studies in major urban cities in North and South America, Europe, and Asia. They found that in the year 2010 alone, there were 223,000 deaths from lung cancer due to pollution.
Through air pollution has been associated with many health problems such as respiratory and heart disease, this is the first time it has been declared a carcinogen. “We now know that outdoor air pollution is not only a major risk to health in general, but also a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths,” states Dr. Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC monographs section. The monographs program, dubbed the “encyclopedia of carcinogens,” is the evidence based authority on carcinogens.
In the past, the program focused on determining cancer causing substances such as diesel engine exhaust. “Our task was to evaluate the air everyone breathes rather than focus on specific air pollutants,” explains Dr. Dana Loomis, Deputy Head of the Monographs Section. “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.”
IARC Director Dr. Christopher Wild stresses that this classification is a vital step in awakening the global population, “There are effective ways to reduce air pollution and, given the scale of the exposure affecting people worldwide, this report should send a strong signal to the international community to take action without further delay.”
As students in a densely populated city, we are definitely in the category of people at risk of lung cancer. The study has found that the leading causes of air pollution are transportation, stationary power generators, industrial and agricultural emissions, and residential heating and cooling. As individuals, we can target these agents by decreasing our transportation emissions. On a larger scale, we need collaboration between major industries, such as agriculture and power companies, and citizens to create a more sustainable living environment. Is our pollution as bad as China’s smog? Definitely not. However, we are still at risk and need to express concern to our legislation if we want them to do something about it.
by Fatima Ali