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WHO confirms diesel is carcinogenic

Health risk: The World Health Organization confirmed that diesel exhaust is carcinogenic in a recent study.

World Health Organization has confirmed that diesel emissions cause lung cancer

General News logo18 Jun 2012

THE United Nations’ peak health body, the World Health Organization (WHO), has conducted a study confirming that diesel engine exhaust can cause lung cancer.

Classification by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of diesel exhaust as “carcinogenic to humans” confirms the widely held belief that the exhaust is harmful.

IARC concluded in 1988 that diesel exhaust was “probably” carcinogenic to humans but no follow-up research study had been conducted until now.

The latest study also noted an increased risk of bladder cancer as a result of exposure to diesel exhaust.

Christopher Portier, chairman of the IARC working group, said the “scientific evidence was compelling”.

“The Working Group’s conclusion was unanimous: diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in humans,” he said.

Dr Portier said exposure to the exhaust should be limited.

“Given the additional health impacts from diesel particulates, exposure to this mixture of chemicals should be reduced worldwide,” he said.

Although WHO did not reveal exactly how the research study was conducted, the head of the IARC’s program, Kurt Straif, said “the main studies that led to this conclusion were in highly exposed workers”.

“However, we have learned from other carcinogens, such as radon, that initial studies showing a risk in heavily exposed occupational groups were followed by positive findings for the general population,” said Dr Straif.

“Therefore actions to reduce exposures should encompass workers and the general population.”

Many nations have introduced stricter diesel emission standards through changes to the fuel itself, improved engine design that burns fuel more efficiently and the incorporation of filters to reduce emissions.

IARC praised these innovations but said that more research would be required to determine the health benefits.

The organisation also said it is more difficult to measure the impact in some developing countries due to the lack of available data and appropriate regulation.

Although this news clearly concerns the world’s car-makers, WHO said that motor vehicles were not solely to blame for the world’s diesel emissions, pointing out diesel trains, ships and power generators as other producers.

Sales of diesel-powered passenger and commercial vehicles in Australia have grown steadily in recent years, with sales of non-heavy commercial vehicles in Australia at 125,987 units to the end of May this year, about 20,000 more than the same period last year.

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