Government officials took the unusual step of closing some of the freeways in Beijing earlier this month, the latest in a series of increasingly frantic efforts to reduce the city’s seemingly endemic problems with air pollution so severe many residents now walk around wearing masks to reduce the amount of soot and smoke they breathe in.
They have reason to worry, warns a new study released by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Based in Lyon, France, and the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization, the IARC has formally declared what many medical experts have long suspected: that air pollution causes lung cancer.
The study points an accusing finger at a variety of sources, including the coal-burning power plants of China, the widespread agricultural operations of California – and the diesel cars and trucks found all over the world.
“The air most people breathe has become polluted with a complicated mixture of cancer-causing substances,” said IARC department chief Kurt Straif told the Associated Press, warning that air pollution is now considered to create a more serious risk of lung cancer than second-hand cigarette smoke. The agency contends more than 220,000 people around the world died in 2010 due to cancers arising from air pollution.