Diesel engine exhaust fumes cause cancer

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IARC, considering the health effects of diesel engine exhaust fumes on humans, has classified it as carcinogenic (cancer causing) to humans..

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), is the cancer research and monitoring arm of the World Health Organization (WHO). On June 12 2012, IARC, after a week-long meeting of international experts on carcinogenic health effects of diesel engine exhaust fumes, has made a press release announcing the classification of diesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic to humans.

Diesel engine exhaust fumes
Diesel engine releasing exhaust fumes

The classification was announced from Lyon, France, after considering the scientific findings on the health effects and cancer-causing potential of diesel exhaust fumes.

Now diesel fumes find a place among other known listed items with carcinogenic effects like tobacco smoke, solar radiation, UV radiation, mustard gas, chronic infection with Hepatitis B/C virus, postmenopausal estrogen therapy, formaldehyde, ethanol in alcoholic beverages, asbestos, benzene, arsenic and arsenic compounds.

Earlier in 1988, IARC had classified exhaust fumes as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. The review of the classification was recommended in 1998. The requirement of the review was further re-emphasized by findings of US National Cancer Institute, published on March 6, 2012 on ‘Heavy Diesel Exhaust Linked to Lung Cancer Deaths in Miners (http://www.cancer.gov/).

The research findings are from the ‘Diesel Exhaust in Miners Study’ (DEMS) taken up in 1992 by jointly by National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The study was done on non-metal miners and it revealed that the increasing exposure to diesel engine fumes had serious health effects and risk of death from lung carcinoma increased with increased exposure. In everyday life most of us get exposed to these diesel engine fumes either through occupation or through the ambient air.

Diesel engine fumes contain obnoxious gases and fine particles of carbon surrounded by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) that enter the body through mouth and nose and leave a coating of deposits in the lungs.
Though the human body removes these particles by coughing, The effects of continuous exposure to these deposits causes cancer.

The results of this study are important not only to miners but also to millions of workers working in environments heavy with diesel engine fumes, people living in very congested cities, people working in underground transit systems and people exposed to traffic snarls for considerable time.

Now that the adverse health effects are known, it is time for enforcing environment guidelines for engine exhaust fumes. Introduction of more efficient engines and machinery with low diesel exhaust emissions, improved ventilation of closed workplaces may help avoid cancer.

The use of appropriate respiratory protective equipment will go long way in reversing negative health effects caused so far by diesel engine exhaust fumes and protect ourselves from lung cancer.

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Image of diesel vehicle releasing black fumes
Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Diesel-smoke.jpg
Image author: Environmental Protection Agency, USA
Image license: Public domain

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