Increase in Lung Cancer Deaths Globally Linked to Air Pollution

Nov 15, 2013 11:10 AM ET
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(3BL Media/Justmeans) In 2010, an estimated 220,000 lung cancer deaths worldwide were linked to air pollution. Now, air pollution has officially been confirmed as a cause of lung cancer, joining tobacco, asbestos and ultraviolet radiation on the list of certified cancer agents. Air pollution has long been suspected as a contributor to lung cancer, but its role as a carcinogen has only just recently been established. This startling announcement has been made by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a unit of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The panel’s classification was announced after an analysis of more than 1,000 studies of connections between pollution and lung cancer. The data also links pollution to the development of bladder cancer.

The air most people breathe has become polluted with a complicated mixture of cancer-causing substances. The IARC firmly believes pollution to be the most important environmental carcinogen, ahead of second-hand smoke from tobacco.  It had earlier identified components of air pollution such as diesel fumes to be carcinogens, but this recent announcement is the first time that air pollution in its entirety has been designated as cancer causing.

The news will alarm billions of people in emerging economies, where the problem is often acute. As the agency’s report noted, the worst pollution can be found in India and China. Last month in October, air pollution in Harbin, China, a city of 11 million, reached the limit of WHO’s Air Quality Index, which tops out at 500. At that level, WHO standards define pollution to be more than 20 times the level considered to be safe. While, last January, Beijing reported an even higher AQI reading, 755! Air pollution is probably even more of an issue in Asia, Africa and Latin America at this moment.

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Sangeeta Haindl is a staff writer for Justmeans on Social Enterprise. When not writing for Justmeans, Sangeeta wears her other hat as a PR professional. Over the years, she has worked with high-profile organizations within the public, not-for-profit and corporate sectors; and won awards from her industry. She now runs her own UK consultancy: Serendipity PR & Media.