What many commuters choking on smog have long suspected has finally been scientifically affirmed: air pollution causes lung cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has declared that air pollution is a carcinogen, alongside known dangers such as asbestos, tobacco and ultraviolet radiation. The decision came after a counsel by an expert panel organized by IARC, the cancer agency of the World Health Organization.
"The air most people breathe has become polluted with a complicated mixture of cancer-causing substances," said Kurt Straif, head of the IARC department that evaluates carcinogens. He said the agency now suspects pollution to be "the most important environmental carcinogen," ahead of second-hand cigarette and cigar smoke.
The risk to the individual is low, but Straif said the main sources of pollution are widespread, including transportation, power plants, and industrial and agricultural outflows.
Air pollution is a complex mixture that includes gases and particulate matter, and IARC said one of its primary risks is the fine particles that can be accumulated deep in the lungs.
"These are hard things for the separate to avoid," he said. "When I walk on a street where there's heavy pollution from diesel exhaust, I try to go a bit further away. So that's something you can do."
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