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Air pollution link to cancer in Lebanon

Uncontrolled usage and/or release of chemicals in Lebanon may increase the risk of developing cancer. Successive wars on Lebanon, usage of excessive amounts of pesticides and fertilizers, smoking of cigarettes and pipes, combustion of low-quality fuel, diesel exhausts, and dust from quarrying locations are among the main sources of these chemicals.

Scientists have discovered clear evidence linking different types of cancer to air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, sooty and fine particles and nitrogen oxides.

Pollutants in Beirut’s air have reached concentration levels so high the substances are now toxic for human health, The Daily Star published last month.

In the corresponding article, professor Jocelyne Adjizan Gerard and Christelle Bakhache mentioned that the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) peaked at the alarming levels of 50 to 60 micrograms per square meter between 2003 and 2010.

They also notified that “the values we found for Beirut were well above norms defined by the World Health Organization regarding air pollution.”

 Moreover, a study has found that the risk for childhood cancer is heightened by exposure to the particular air pollutant nitrogen dioxide, which is produced by car exhaust fumes. This in fact reflects how serious the consequences of air pollution on public health in Lebanon are.

To date, no direct link was established between air pollution and cancer in Lebanon.

However, researchers in the US, UK and Canada have identified a link between air pollution and pneumonia, peptic ulcer, coronary and rheumatic heart diseases, lung and stomach cancers. In this context, the chairman of the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP), professor Jon Ayres said: “The evidence that exposure to air pollutants has important effects on the cardiovascular system is of public health and calls for greater research.”

 Similarly, professor George Knox from Birmingham University found an exceptional link between high rates of fatal pneumonia and exhaust fumes. He suggested that fine carbon particles largely generated by diesel exhausts are leading to the damage of the lungs and cause harmful changes in blood vessels and clotting.

In Lebanon, the levels of air pollution and the number of patients diagnosed with cancer are increasing also. These findings underline the need to further reduce levels of air pollution in Lebanon in order to protect public health.

Air pollution does not discriminate between young and old. It is therefore essential that we all work together to minimize pollution levels.

The Lebanese government is directly responsible for decreasing air-pollution levels. Obviously, it does not need to introduce new rules and regulations to control this problem. Only rules issued previously by consecutive governments need to be respected and implemented.

For instance, annual tests of vehicle safety, road-worthiness aspects and exhaust emissions must be strictly applied with no exceptions.

On the other hand, according to the Association for Forest Development and Conservation, forest fires between 1993 and 2005 amount to 70.600 fires in different parts of the country.

The number of burned areas yearly tremendously increased in 2006-2007 due to the July 2006 war and to the October 2007 fires, which burned huge forested areas in only a few days. Therefore, the government must take action today to reforest Lebanon before it's too late. Many other actions could be taken by the government to control pollution and reduce cancer.

Finally, controlling air pollution could help cut the Public Health Ministry’s cost of treating patients with cancer. This would also bring other benefits such as cutting emissions causing climate change.

Professor Ismail Abbas is a Lecturer of Physical and Organic Chemistry at the Beirut Arab University.

 
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