May 6, 2015

Lung Foundation Australia Backs National Clean Air Agreement

Lung Foundation Australia and the Peter Mac Cancer Centre have released the “Working towards a National Clean Air Agreement” which focuses on the link between air pollution and cancer.

During the past 50 years, studies have consistently shown an association between air pollution and an increased risk of developing lung cancer.[1]

Several large scale studies conducted over the past two decades have contributed to and strengthened this body of evidence, leading to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifying outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans.[2]

In 2012, the World Health Organisation (WHO) attributed 3.7 million deaths to ambient air pollution. In Australia, the most recent analysis dates back to 2003, where 3,000 deaths a year were attributed to air pollution[3].

The projected demographics for population growth, urbanisation and increasing demands for transportation and energy consumption highlight the importance of a National Clean Air Agreement with a focus on health promotion and prevention of disease.

One in three Australians get cancer of which lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer related death.

Reductions in cigarette smoking have led to a reduced incidence of squamous-cell lung cancer; however another type of lung cancer (adenocarcinoma) is increasing[4].

The most effective way to reduce lung cancer mortality is to prevent it.

Lung cancer comprises 21 per cent of the health burden attributable to urban air pollution,[3] and there is evidence that the DNA damage and mutations caused by diesel pollution also occurs in sperm cells[5] thereby extending the harmful effects of ambient air pollution onto future generations of Australians.

Poor air quality has significant impact on respiratory health generally.

Airborne contaminants may be the primary cause of respiratory disease or can exacerbate pre-existing conditions, such as asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

It is estimated that occupational dust exposure is responsible for 20-30 per cent of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in Australia.

It has also been estimated that work exposures worsen asthma control in 21 per cent of adults with asthma.

The defence mechanisms of the respiratory tract are impaired in the presence of chronic respiratory diseases such as COPD, bronchiectasis and pulmonary fibrosis. This may increase the susceptibility to the effects of airborne contaminants.

The current air quality standards and legislative framework is not focused around protecting public health.[6]

Click here to read the Agreement:





  1. Hamra GB, Guha N, Cohen A, et al. Outdoor Particulate Matter Exposure and Lung Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives 2014; 122:906-91.
  2. Loomis D, Grosse Y, Lauby-Secretan B, et al. 2013. The carcinogenicity of outdoor air pollution. Lancet Oncol 14: 1262-1263
  3. Begg S, Vos T, Barker B, et al. The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Cat. no. PHE 82, Canberra (2007), p234
  4. Gabrielson E. Worldwide trends in lung cancer pathology. Respirology 2006; 11:533-38
  5. Somers CM. Ambient air pollution exposure and damage to male gametes; human studies and in situ ‘sentinel’ animal experiments. Syst Biol Reprod Med 2011; 57:63-71
  6. Barnett A. It’s safe to say there is no safe level of air pollution. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 2014;38:5:407-408