Air pollution: Research links black carbon to increased cancer risk

·2-min read
Air pollution: Research links black carbon to increased cancer risk

Long-term exposure to black carbon, a constituent of fine particle air pollution, could increase lung cancer risk by 30%, according to researchers in France.

Could stepping out for a breath of fresh air come with its own health risks? Research from France's national institute of health and medical research, Inserm, published Wednesday, March 24 , singles out black carbon as a constituent of air pollution that could increase cancer risk, especially for lung cancer. Black carbon is produced by incomplete combustion, particularly related to vehicle traffic. Although, in 2013, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) categorized all fine particles as known human carcinogens, they may not all have exactly the same health impacts.

Black carbon could increase lung cancer risk

Since 1989, Inserm has been annually following up the health of some 20,000 volunteers (the Gazel cohort). This includes data on where participants have lived, as well as their habits, allowing for a better understanding of the researchers' findings. "Those with the highest levels of exposure to black carbon since 1989 presented an approximately 20% increased cancer risk compared to those with the lowest exposures. An increased risk that rose to 30% for lung cancer," reveal study authors Emeline Lequy and Bénédicte Jacquemin.

In light of the situation, the researchers consider that: "At an individual level, it is difficult to recommend measures for limiting exposure to black carbon from ambient air particles. However, it is possible to adjust public policies if we can show which air pollutants cause the most harm. So we hope that our findings will help to expand knowledge in order to guide and refine these policies, for example by taking specific measures against black carbon, which mainly comes from automobile traffic."

While continuing to research the health impact of black carbon, the researchers also aim to study the health impacts of other specific pollutants, notably metals.

Louis Tardy