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WHO Reports: Air Pollution Leads to Cancer

Update Date: Oct 17, 2013 09:41 AM EDT
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As the global community continues to become more industrialized, the air people breath everyday is inevitably more and more polluted. For several years, many studies have researched the potentially dangerous effects of air pollution. These studies have found correlations between air pollution and asthma, respiratory problems and cardiovascular diseases. Now, the global agency, the World Health Organization (WHO) is reporting that air pollution is a carcinogen. As of today, the cancer agency of WHO, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IRAC) has declared air pollution a cause of cancer.

"We consider this to be the most important environmental carcinogen, more so than passive smoking," stated the head of the IRAC department responsible for researching cancer-causing substances, Kurt Straif according to the Associated Press reported by ABC News.

The IRAC, which is based in Lyon, France, decided to label air pollution as a carcinogen after a panel of experts was organized solely to evaluate the effects of air pollution. The panel had reviewed over 1,000 studies conducted throughout the world. Based on the numbers, the experts believe that there was enough evidence to say that air pollution leads to cancer. The IRAC specifically pointed out that in 2010, there were over 220,000 lung cancer deaths worldwide that could be tied to air pollution.

Since air pollution encompasses so many different gases and particulate matter, the risk of cancer for each individual varies greatly. The team did find that the countries with some of the highest levels of pollution were China and India. The experts believe that acknowledging air pollution, in its entirety, as a cause of cancer is important. The experts hope that since air pollution is pretty much everywhere, governments and global agencies, such as WHO and the European Commission will readdress how they deal with pollutants.

"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," Dr. Christopher Wild, director of the IARC.

"You can choose not to drink or not to smoke, but you can't control whether or not you're exposed to air pollution," said Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatics at Harvard University's School of Public Health. Dominici was not an expert on the panel. "You can't just decide not to breathe.

The report can be accessed here.

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