Fumes emitted by diesel vehicles can cause cancer, according to researchers from the WHO and International Agency for Research on Cancer. They discovered this when studying a group of people exposed to various settings.
Researchers studied the health conditions of the people who were highly exposed to diesel exhaust fumes - such as truck drivers, taxi drivers and underground miners - and people who were less exposed to diesel exhaust fumes. They found that people who were highly exposed to diesel exhaust fumes have greater chances of developing cancer than people who were less exposed to diesel fumes.
The study also claimed that people working in at-risk industries have about a 40% increased risk of developing lung cancer, according to a BBC report.
Large populations are exposed to diesel exhaust in everyday life, whether through their occupation or through the ambient air. People are exposed not only to motor vehicle exhausts but also to exhausts from other diesel engines, including from other modes of transport (eg diesel trains and ships) and from power generators.
Scientists suggest that government organisations, non-governmental organisations and scientists should take up initiatives to reduce diesel exhaust fumes. For diesel engines, this required changes in the fuel such as marked decreases in sulphur content, changes in engine design to burn diesel fuel more efficiently and reductions in emissions through exhaust control technology.
"The scientific evidence was compelling and the Working Group's conclusion was unanimous: diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in humans," said Dr Christopher Portier, Chairman of the IARC working Group, in a statement. "Given the additional health impacts from diesel particulates, exposure to this mixture of chemicals should be reduced worldwide."
"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. Therefore actions to reduce exposures should encompass workers and the general population," said Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Programme.
"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," said Dr Christopher Wild, Director at the IARC, in a statement.