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Susan Brink for National Geographic Published November 8, 2013An eight-year-old girl, living near a major road in the Jiangsu Province of Eastern China, has become the youngest person in China, and possibly in the world, to be diagnosed with lung cancer caused by pollution—the cause of her disease according to Chinese officials. And last month, the World Health Organization classified air pollution as a major human carcinogen.
We talked with C. Arden Pope, economics professor at
Nothing. I think we ought to be honest. I’m not familiar with any studies of that. In the American Cancer Society children aren’t even enrolled. I know of no lung cancer study that enrolls children. This is a very, very young lung cancer case. [Note: There have been younger children diagnosed with lung cancer linked to genetics, not pollution.].Levels of PM2.5—microscopic particles filling the air as a result of pollution—have been shown in some industrialized areas of
There are lots of carcinogens emitted with industrial pollution. Our respiratory systems filter out the relatively large particles from air pollution. And they’re heavy enough to fall from the air quickly. PM2.5 is a measure of among the finest of the particles; fine enough to stay in the air for weeks. The particles are a fraction of the size of the width of a human hair. The tiny ones come nearly entirely from burning things—coal, gasoline, and diesel. Those tiny combustion particles are small enough to penetrate the lungs, and they’re made up of all sorts of nasty particles..The
We’re way better than that. Their annual average may be as much as 80 to 100 (micrograms per cubic meter of air) with
It’s very complicated. There’s no doubt that the industrial activity in
Absolutely. Probably the strongest relationship with air pollution is cardiovascular disease; and the higher the air pollution, the greater the risk. [See related story: "Coal Burning Shortens Lives in China, New Study Shows."].What were your thoughts when you heard of a young child with lung cancer?
It’s sad. The work I do is to compile information from lots of people, not individual cases. But any time a child has a serious disease like this, it’s sad.