Nearly 10% of cancers in Europe are linked to pollution in various forms, the European Environment Agency (EEA) warned on Tuesday, stressing that most cases are preventable.
“Exposure to air pollution, secondhand smoke, ultraviolet rays, asbestos, certain chemicals and other pollutants are responsible for more than 10% of cancer cases in Europe.”
However, this figure could drop dramatically if existing policies were rigorously implemented, particularly in the fight against pollution, the organization said.
“All carcinogenic environmental and occupational risks can be reduced”Gerardo Sanchez, an expert from the AEE, confirmed ahead of the publication of the report, the agency’s first on the link between cancer and the environment.
“Cancers determined by the environment and by radiation or chemical carcinogens can be reduced to an almost negligible level”, he assured during a press conference. According to data from the agency, air pollution is responsible for 1% of cases and about 2% of deaths — a share that rises to 9% for lung cancer.
Recent studies have also found “a correlation between long-term exposure to particulate matter, a major air pollutant, and leukemia in adults and children”, emphasizes the European organisation.
Radon, a natural radioactive gas likely to be inhaled, especially in poorly ventilated homes, is thought to be responsible for 2% of cancer cases on the continent.
According to the European agency, ultraviolet rays (mainly of solar but also artificial origin) are responsible for almost 4% of all cancers, especially melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer that has increased significantly in Europe in recent decades.
Some chemicals used in the workplace and released into the environment are also carcinogenic. Lead, arsenic, chromium, pesticides, bisphenol A and per- and polyfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS) are among the most dangerous to Europeans’ health, along with asbestos, which has been banned in the European Union since 2005 but is still present in some buildings.
In the EU, 2.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year and 1.3 million die. The continent, which represents barely 10% of the world’s population, is responsible for 23% of new cases and 20% of deaths.