IARC Concludes: Outdoor Air Pollution a Leading Environmental Cause of Cancer Deaths. Particulate Pollution also Classified as a Group 1 Carcinogen

Statement of the American Lung Association

WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 17, 2013)

The American Lung Association welcomes the conclusion announced today by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that outdoor air pollution and particulate matter both cause cancer in humans, assigning these pollutants the strongest category of evidence. The IARC, an arm of the World Health Organization, concluded that outdoor air pollution is a leading environmental cause of lung cancer. Cancer is in the air, and it does not need to be.

This review by a multidisciplinary, international panel of experts concluded that the strength of the scientific evidence demonstrates that outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer deaths. The review looked at the latest studies conducted around the globe. Further this group of experts identified fine particles as a specific carcinogen.

The human toll is profound. They cited one 2010 study that estimated fine particles (PM2.5) contribute to 223,000 deaths from lung cancer worldwide.

According to the IARC, both outdoor air pollution and fine particulate matter meet the strongest standard evaluation, placing them in the Group 1 category. As they explained, the Group 1 category “is used when there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. Exceptionally, an agent may be placed in this category when evidence of carcinogenicity in humans is less than sufficient but there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals and strong evidence in exposed humans that the agent acts through a relevant mechanism of carcinogenicity.”

Thanks to the Clean Air Act, the air quality in the United States has improved significantly over the past 40 years. However, too many people remain exposed to dangerous levels of cancer-causing air pollution and particulate matter. As a nation, we owe protection from lung cancer to our families, our children and our neighbors. The Clean Air Act provides the tools to clean up power plants, motor vehicles, and industrial processes, as well as the woodstoves used to heat homes.

Big polluters and their allies on Capitol Hill have tried time and again to dispute the science, even though these published studies have stood multiple, thorough, independent reviews. This IARC review is only the latest and most comprehensive.

The Lung Association hopes that this IARC review will end the debate about the need to clean up air pollution.


About the American Lung Association
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases.  For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.