Diesel engine exhaust: carcinogenic to humans

A World Health Organisation agency has unanimously decided, based on the available evidence, that diesel fumes are linked to cancer.

After a week-long meeting of international experts, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO),  classified diesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence that exposure is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer.

The findings of IARC were put forward this week in a monograph – a comprehensive and critical review and evaluation of the published scientific evidence on the carcinogenicity of human exposures (a summary of which will be published in Lancet Oncology later this week). This review includes data on cancer in humans, cancer bioassays, and the mechanisms of carcinogenesis. National health agencies can use this information as scientific support for their actions to prevent exposure to potential carcinogens.

The working group noted that railroad workers, truck drivers, and vehicle mechanics are workers with potential exposure to diesel exhaust.

Diesel exhaust was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A) in 1989, However an IARC advisory group has been pushing for re-evaluation science 1998.

In a media statement Dr Christopher Wild, Director, IARC, said that “while IARC’s remit is to establish the evidence-base for regulatory decisions at national and international level, today’s conclusion sends a strong signal that public health action is warranted. This emphasis is needed globally, including among the more vulnerable populations in developing countries where new technology and protective measures may otherwise take many years to be adopted.”

The announcement has been widely covered in New Zealand. Examples include:

3 News: Diesel fumes definitely cause cancer – WHO

Stuff.co.nz (and Fairfax papers): Diesel fumes cause cancer – WHO’s cancer agency

NZ Herald News: Diesel fumes cause cancer: WHO

Otago Daily Times: Diesel exhaust fumes cause cancer, WHO says

TVNZ News: Diesel exhaust fumes cause cancer – WHO

NZ Herald News: Diesel fumes among biggest cancer risks