Diesel exhaust may not be good for you.
Exhaust from diesel engines causes lung cancer, a World Health Organisation agency said for the first time, citing a review of studies.
Diesel exhaust also was linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, based in Lyon, France, said in a statement today. The group published the findings after a review over eight days by a panel of scientists. An earlier review, in 1988, classified diesel engine exhaust as "probably carcinogenic."
The finding is alarming for Australia, as sales of diesel-powered vehicle have more than doubled – from 110,608 to 266,886 – between 2005 and 2011. That figures doesn't include heavy vehicles such as trucks and buses, which are almost exclusively powered by diesel.Advertisement: Story continues below
Most of the growth has come from European manufacturers including Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, who are selling increasing numbers of diesel-powered passenger cars. Sales of diesel-powered passenger cars have grown six-fold since 2005, albeit off a low base.
The growing popularity of SUVs and one-tonne utes is also a cause for concern. Volkswagen spokesman Karl Gehling says that almost all its SUVs are diesel-powered, while overall its sales are about 45 per cent diesel. All Volkswagens are fitted with particulate filters, which greatly reduce the amount of particulate matter they produce.
But diesel versions of Toyota's HiLux, which has been the top-selling vehicle in Australia for the past two months, do not have the filters.
The agency isn't providing guidelines on what level of exposure is carcinogenic, leaving it up to national and international regulatory authorities to weigh its conclusion, Christopher Wild, director of the agency, told reporters today on a conference call.
"The scientific evidence was compelling and the working group's conclusion was unanimous: Diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in humans," Christopher Portier, chairman of the IARC working group, said in the statement. "Given the additional health impacts from diesel particulates, exposure to this mixture of chemicals should be reduced worldwide."
The review of older studies may not take into account advances in diesel technology over the last decade, Steve Hansen, a spokesman for the Diesel Technology Forum in Washington, said in an e-mailed statement. The group represents global diesel engine manufacturers, automakers and oil refiners. Members include Deere, Ford Motor and BP.
Nitrogen oxide emissions from heavy-duty trucks and buses have been reduced by 99 percent and particulate emissions by 98 percent over the past 10 years, Hansen said.
Australia's Green Vehicle Guide, which lists new cars according to their environmental and emissions performance, marks down diesel vehicles for their particulate emissions. http://smh.drive.com.au/motor-news/the-truth-about-diesel-20070601-1416x.html
The site says:
"While diesel vehicles perform comparatively well on fuel consumption and produce lower levels of greenhouse emissions, their contribution to air pollution is generally higher than that of comparative petrol or LPG vehicles. Of most concern are particulate matter and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions which can cause a range of adverse health effects. These emissions are generally higher in diesel vehicles compared to petrol or gas vehicles."
The site acknowledges that vehicles fitted with particulate filters perform better.
"Diesel vehicles meeting the new Euro 5 standards have much lower PM emissions than vehicles built to current standards."
While the amount of particulates and chemicals are reduced with particulate filters, it is not yet clear how they may translate into health effects, the IARC said. "Research into this question is needed."
Existing vehicles without these modifications will take many years to be replaced, particularly in less-developed countries where regulatory measures aren't as stringent, the IARC said.
Gasoline engine fumes are "possibly carcinogenic," the agency said, reiterating its 1988 finding.
Cancer killed 7.6 million people worldwide, the leading cause of death globally in 2008, the most recent year available, the WHO said. Lung cancer was the most lethal type, accounted for 18 per cent of all cancer deaths, the agency said.
The IARC had been planning since 1998 to re-evaluate the cancer-causing potential of diesel fumes. The concern was re- emphasised by the publication in March of results from a US National Cancer Institute study that found exposure to diesel fumes increased risk of death from lung cancer in miners, the agency said.
By classifying cancer risks, the IARC provides scientific advice to governments. The agency lists substances as carcinogenic, probably carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic, not classifiable and probably not carcinogenic.
Possible links for workers incl firefighters. Another reason for workers comp to be protected.