World Health Organization declares air pollution a carcinogen

Firewood piled high in a Lethbridge driveway on a snowy afternoon represents a threat to both air quality and community health. Particulate matter, a pollutant produced in large amounts by the burning of even “dry, seasoned” wood, is now classified as a Group 1 human carcinogen.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued an important declaration this past week.  Air pollution has been declared by the WHO agency to be carcinogenic, and even more of a cancer risk than passive smoking.

Here is an excerpt from the IARC’s October 17, 2013 press release:

“’Classifying outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans is an important step,’ stresses IARC Director Dr. Christopher Wild. ‘There are effective ways to reduce air pollution and, given the scale of the exposure affecting people worldwide, this report should send a strong signal to the international community to take action without further delay.’”  (IARC:  Outdoor air pollution a leading cause of environmental deaths  )

The fact that air pollution, including particulate matter – which wood smoke contains in large amounts – is now classed as a cancer causing substance along with asbestos, silica dust, and tobacco is significant news.

Wherever cleaner alternatives to biomass burning are available, action is needed to eliminate avoidable wood smoke from the air in communities, for the same reasons that cities like Lethbridge have already banned cigarette smoking near playgrounds and public buildings.