Pollution Exposure Linked to Childhood Cancer

Thu Aug 11, 2005 7:35 PM BST

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Exposure soon after birth, or even before, to combustion gases and particularly engine exhaust, is strongly linked to the development of childhood cancers like leukemia, according to a report from the UK.

“These results confirm the relative proximities of child cancer births to substance-specific hotspots from oil-based emissions, and to industrial sites known to discharge such materials,” Dr. E. G. Knox, from the University of Birmingham, reports in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

In the study, Dr. Knox linked emission hotspots for specific chemicals, from maps available on the Internet maps, to the birth addresses of children who later died from leukemia or other cancers before their 16th birthday.

An excess risk of childhood cancer was noted in hotspots for a variety of chemicals, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and 1,3-butadiene.

Although many of the associations seemed to be artifactual, an independent link with 1,3-butadiene and carbon monoxide remained.

Knox notes that these chemicals, which are largely produced by engine exhausts, were powerful predictors of childhood cancer. For example, joint exposure to a nearby bus station and 1,3-butadiene raised the risk of cancer 12.6-fold.

In terms of policy implications, the findings suggest that current atmospheric standards for 1,3-butadiene in workplaces may not be low enough to protect from childhood cancer, Knox points out.

SOURCE: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, September 2005.