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ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTANTS

Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the USA and Europe. Radon gas forms from the radioactive decay of uranium, found at differing concentrations in soil and rock throughout the world. Exposure occurs when radon gas is trapped in underground mines and basements.

Populations consuming high levels of arsenic in drinking water have excess risks of skin, lung and bladder cancer. High levels of arsenic in drinking water have been found in areas in the People’s Republic of China, Bangladesh, Taiwan (China), and some countries in Central and South America.

Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US and in Europe.

Indoor air pollution from solid fuel use is estimated to cause about 2.5 million deaths each year in developing countries, or about 4.5% of global deaths annually. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies indoor smoke emissions from coal as known human carcinogens, and from other types of solid fuels as probable carcinogens.

Exposure to fine particulate matter in outdoor air increases lung cancer risk. Outdoor air pollution levels are particularly high in rapidly growing cities in developing countries. Diesel exhaust, also classified as a lung carcinogen by IARC, contributes to outdoor air pollution and is also an occupational lung carcinogen.

Asbestos consumption has dramatically declined in many countries, but has remained the same or increased in some fast-growing economies.

Asbestos consumption in selected countries/regions, 1970 vs. 2003 (*The top 7 Western European consumers in 1970; **Russia and Kazakhstan for 2003)

Text alternative: Asbestos consumption in selected countries/regions, 1970 vs. 2003
Bar chart showing asbestos consumption in selected countries/regions, 1970 vs. 2003 which indicates that asbestos consumption has dramatically declined in many countries, but has remained the same or increased in some fast-growing economies (such as China, Brazil, India)

OCCUPATIONAL EXPOSURES

Numerous substances in the workplace are known to cause cancer in workers, as are certain work circumstances. Due to the intensity and/or duration of these exposures, the cancer burden can be quite high among those workers exposed. Though preventing these cancers is possible where steps can be taken to limit exposure, occupational exposure remains a particular concern in low- and middle-income countries, where exposures are likely to be higher, regulations and enforcement are less strict than in high-income countries, and hazardous exposures occur in small-scale industrial operations.

For example, asbestos, used in industrialized countries for insulation, friction products, and fire protection until the 1980s, is an important cause of occupational lung cancer and the unique cause of malignant mesothelioma, a rare and lethal cancer. Asbestos exposure remains an occupational and environmental hazard in many countries.

Many substances are known to cause cancer among exposed industrial workers.

IARC-classified group I carcinogens for which exposures are mostly occupational (excluding pesticides and drugs), by cancer

Text alternative: IARC-classified group I carcinogens for which exposures are mostly occupational (excluding pesticides and drugs), by cancer
Chart showing IARC-classified group I carcinogens for which exposures are mostly occupational (excluding pesticides and drugs), by cancer

The air we breathe has become polluted with a mixture of cancer-causing substances. We now know that outdoor air pollution is not only a major risk to health in general, but also a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths.

Dr. Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Section