The World Health Organization released an official announcement yesterday stating that it has discovered significant evidence that links inhalation of diesel fumes with various types of cancers in human beings.
The organization, which operates under the watchful eye of the United Nations, claims that diesel fumes are a confirmed cause of lung cancer and can also increase the risk of bladder cancer in certain cases. Due to these findings, the organization added diesel fumes to its list of Group 1 Carcinogens which is a list of carcinogen agents that have been proven to cause cancer in humans moving it from its prior spot on the list of possible carcinogens . The placement of diesel exhaust in this list not only makes inhalation of these fumes worse than second-hand cigarette smoke, but also puts diesel emissions in the grim company of other lethal carcinogen compounds such as arsenic, alcohol, neutron radiation, and strontium-90.
“The scientific evidence was compelling and the working group’s conclusion was unanimous: diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in humans” stated Dr. Christopher Portier, chairman of the working group. He went on further stating, “Given the additional health impacts from diesel particulates, exposure to this mixture of chemicals should be reduced worldwide.” In addition to looking at the effects of diesel emissions, the working group also looked into the health effects of emissions from gasoline powered engines but ultimately decided that those types of emissions were only possibly carcinogenic (the same conclusion that was reached in 1989 when the WHO last looked into gasoline emissions.
However, despite this grim discovery, there is still some positive news to be found. Over the last few years emissions from diesel engines have become much cleaner thanks to the use of new emission reduction technologies such as more precise direct injection techniques, particulate filters, as well as the widespread use of ultra low sulfur grade diesel in the United States, which has done its part to help create cleaner emissions especially when compared to diesel vehicles that were on the roads before emissions reduction measures were in place. Diesel engines in the US are now subject to the same emission requirements as gasoline engines.
Furthermore, in a report released by the New York Times, scientists claim that people should only be concerned about these findings if their job or the surrounding environment places them in direct long term exposure and contact with diesel exhaust. Employees in the mining industry as well as collectors at toll booths were cited as key examples, which was collaborated with a separate study which indicated that miners who had long term exposure to diesel emissions were seven times more likely to develop lung cancer than people who never smoked cigarettes. “Just walking by an accelerating bus or owning a diesel car won’t be an issue though,” stated one of the scientists involved in the study. “I don’t think it’s bad to have a diesel car. I don’t think its good to breathe its exhaust.”
Unfortunately this is not the case in many of the world’s developing countries where a large percentage of automobiles (especially big trucks) are still powered by older diesel power plants that utilize inefficient prechamber-type indirect fuel injection to deliver fuel into the combustion chamber. To make the situation even worse, the WHO estimates that it would take a considerable amount of time and effort before these vehicles are taken off the road and are replaced with newer vehicles that are equipped with clean diesel technologies.