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Outdoor Air Pollution Causes Lung Cancer, WHO Says

Traffic in Beijing
Traffic moves along a street as pedestrians walk on an overpass shrouded in haze in Beijing. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Outdoor air pollution can cause lung cancer, a World Health Organization agency said, ranking it as a carcinogen for the first time.

Pollution was also linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, based in Lyon, France, said in a statement on its Web site today, citing a review of studies.

Air pollution, which has also been linked to heart disease, caused about 223,000 deaths from lung cancer globally in 2010, according to the IARC. Particulate matter, which comes from vehicles, power plants, other industrial sites and biomass burning and is a major component of the pollution, was evaluated separately and also found to cause cancer.

“This report should send a strong signal to the international community to take action,” said IARC Director Christopher Wild. “We can’t treat our way out of this cancer problem. The first step is identifying the causes.”

While the group has evaluated individual chemicals and substances such as diesel engine exhaust, it’s the first time that air pollution as a whole is deemed carcinogenic, the agency said.

By classifying cancer risks, the IARC provides scientific advice to governments. The agency ranks substances in five groups: carcinogenic, probably carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic, not classifiable and probably not carcinogenic.

To contact the reporter on this story: Makiko Kitamura in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at

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