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Finding raises diesel cancer fears

HK Standard

Diesel fumes cause cancer, the World Health Organization declared yesterday.

Mary Ann Benitez and Choya Choi

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Diesel fumes cause cancer, the World Health Organization declared yesterday.

The conclusion, announced after a week-long meeting of a panel organized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, may make vehicle exhaust gases as important as a public health threat as secondhand tobacco smoke.

Before this, diesel exhaust had been categorized as “probable carcinogen” to humans.

But now the agency, which is the WHO cancer arm, has made a definitive determination that diesel exhaust does cause cancer.

“Based on sufficient evidence, exposure [to diesel exhaust] is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer,” a statement from the IARC and the WHO said.

“It’s on the same order of magnitude as passive smoking,” Kurt Straif, director of the IARC was quoted as saying by Associated Press.

“This could be another big push for countries to clean up exhaust from diesel engines.”

Straif said there may be many cases of lung cancer connected to the contaminant.

He said the fumes affected groups including pedestrians on the street, ship passengers and crew, railroad workers, truck drivers, mechanics, miners and those operating heavy machinery.

Reclassifying diesel exhaust as carcinogenic puts it into the same category as other known hazards such as asbestos, alcohol and ultraviolet radiation.

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department said the government has been “closely monitoring” the WHO study on the health effects of diesel engine emissions.

“As diesel vehicles emissions are the main source of pollution and have adverse effects on public health, the government has enforced a series of measures to control and reduce the emissions of diesel vehicles,” he said.

But Clear the Air chairman James Middleton did not mince words about the “failed” tenure of outgoing Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah.

He has made 60 overseas trips in 59 months, presumably seeking a source of clean air for Hong Kong during his failed portfolio tenure,” Middleton said.

“His recent Greentech jaunt to Europe where he visited a polluting incineration plant and a Scottish distillery will be of doubtful use to Hong Kong’s environmental problems.

“Roadside pollution has increased during his tenure.

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