Air pollution is a leading cause of cancer, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer agency. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared air pollution a carcinogen, citing several thousand deaths per year.
The news likely comes as no surprise to health experts, who have known for years that air pollution can cause several ailments. Now, depending on the level of exposure in the region, scientists say that breathing polluted air is as risky as breathing in second-hand tobacco smoke.
Air pollution is usually caused by transport, power generation, industrial, and/or agricultural emissions, along with residential heating and cooling. Reuters reports that it is already known to cause illnesses related to respiratory problems and heart diseases.
Some compounds in the air we breathe, like diesel exhaust, have been labeled carcinogens, but it was the first time pollution as a whole was labeled a cause of cancer. The label “carcinogenic to humans” is the highest of the agency’s four-level classification system, notes The Los Angeles Times.
In a statement about the new classification, Kurt Straif of the ICAF explained, “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.”
Along with lung cancer, air pollution is also known to increase the risk of bladder cancer. Pollution levels vary across the world and have fallen in the United States in recent years. However, the carcinogen still caused more than 220,000 lung cancer deaths around the world in 2010. More than half of the deaths were in China and East Asian countries.
The agency’s report didn’t break down the cancer risk for countries, because the sources of air pollution are too wide to pin down. Instead, the agency chose to review global air pollution to understand the role it plays in the more than 1.3 million new cases of lung cancer recorded around the world per year.
[Image via ShutterStock]