The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a study yesterday revealing that outdoor air pollution itself is a carcinogen that’s linked to cancer. The emissions from cars, plants and factories, and solid fuel combustion from homes all disperse pollutants into the ambient air, and the large variety of these chemicals are carcinogenic to humans.
The IARC is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), which operates from within the United Nations.
The 229-page report indicated that inhaling these carcinogenic, ambient fine particles contributed to 3.2 million deaths globally in 2010. These deaths were largely linked to cardiovascular disease and nearly a quarter million were from lung cancer. Over half of which were linked to ambient fine particles.
“The air we breathe has become polluted with a mixture of cancer-causing substance,” said IARC spokesman Kurt Straif.
According to the report, exposure levels in some parts of the world poses the same risk as being exposed to second-hand smoking.
Some of the chemicals found in the air were benzene, asbestos, radon, and formaldehyde, all of which were rated Group 1 chemicals, meaning that they were carcinogenic to humans. Those living in Asia, South Asia, and eastern North America are at the highest risk of developing cancer for simply breathing the air around them.
This research released by the IARC and the WHO echoes a study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This study indicates that by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, millions of lives could be saved by 2100.
By simulating two futures, one where emissions are cut and the other where they are not, the researchers, led by Jason West, determined that emissions cuts would save 300,000 to 700,000 premature deaths by 2030. By 2100, 1.4 to 3 million people could be saved. Asia, where risk is highest for cancer-inducing airborne carcinogens, would enjoy the most benefit by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and “the benefits would be 10 to 70 times the cost of reducing emissions, in 2030.”
“This is much more than the costs of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, so this can justify reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the point of view of human health,” said West. “It’s pretty striking that you can make an argument purely on health grounds to climate control change.”
As with West and his team’s prediction indicates, whether it be cancer-causing carcinogens in the air or climate change, the environment is headed for a deadly future if no action is taken.