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Diesel exhaust fumes can cause cancer, WHO says

Diesel fumes now in same risk group as asbestos, arsenic

* Exposure causes lung cancer, linked to bladder cancer

* WHO expert says public health action is needed

* Auto industry says diesel has cleaned up in recent years

By Kate Kelland

LONDON, June 12 (Reuters) – Diesel engine exhaust fumes can cause cancer in humans and belong in the same potentially deadly category as asbestos, arsenic and mustard gas, World Health Organisation (WHO) experts said on Tue sday.

In an announcement that caused consternation among car and truck makers, the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the WHO, reclassified diesel exhausts from its group 2A of probable carcinogens to its group 1 of substances that have definite links to cancer.

The experts, who said their decision was unanimous and based on “compelling” scientific evidence, urged people across the world to reduce exposure to diesel fumes as much as possible.

“The (expert) working group found that diesel exhaust is a cause of lung cancer and also noted a positive association with an increased risk of bladder cancer,” it said in a statement.

The decision is a result of a week-long meeting of independent experts who assessed the latest scientific evidence on the cancer-causing potential of diesel and gasoline exhausts.

It puts diesel fumes in the same risk category as noxious substances such as asbestos, arsenic, mustard gas, alcohol and tobacco.

Christopher Portier, chairman of the IARC working group, said the group’s conclusion “was unanimous, that diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in humans”.

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

PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE

Diesel cars are popular in western Europe, where tax advantages have encouraged technological advances and a boom in demand.

Outside of Europe and India, diesel engines are almost entirely confined to commercial vehicles. German carmakers are trying to raise awareness for diesels in the United States, where the long distances travelled on highways suit diesel engines.

IARC noted that large populations all over the world are exposed to diesel exhaust in everyday life, whether through their jobs or in ambient air.

“People are exposed not only to motor vehicle exhausts but also to exhausts from other diesel engines…(such as diesel trains and ships) and from power generators,” it said.

IARC’s director Christopher Wild said that against this background, Tuesday’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,” he said in a statement.

DIESEL HAS CLEANED UP

For about 20 years, diesel engine exhaust was defined by IARC as probably carcinogenic to humans – group 2A – but an IARC advisory group has repeatedly recommended diesel engine exhaust as a high priority for re-evaluation since 1998.

The global auto industry had argued diesel fumes should be given a less high-risk rating to reflect tighter emissions standards.
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