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Do air quality targets really represent safe limits for lung cancer risk?

Buonanno, G., Stabile, L., Morawska, L., Giovinco, G., Querol, X.
The Science of the total environment 2017 v.580 pp. 74-82
European Union, air, air pollution, air quality, best available technology, breathing, females, heavy metals, issues and policy, lung neoplasms, males, natural ventilation, people, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, risk, risk assessment
In order to estimate the lung cancer risk associated to airborne particles, exposure and risk-assessment studies ordinarily use particle mass concentration as dosimetry parameter. Consequently, the corresponding air quality targets are based on this metrics, neglecting the potential impact of ultrafine particles (UFPs) due to their negligible mass. The main purpose of this study was to evaluate the reliability of air quality targets in protecting Italian non-smoking people from lung cancer risk due to exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and some heavy metals associated with particle inhalation. A modified risk-assessment scheme was applied to estimate the cancer risk contribution from both sub-micron (mainly UFPs) and super-micron particles. We found a very high lung cancer risk related to the actual target levels due to the contribution of UFPs, in particular from indoor microenvironments. Therefore, as possible actions to reduce the lung cancer risk, we have hypothesized and tested three different scenarios: a) a reduction of the concentration of carcinogenic chemicals condensed onto particles in agreement with the current EU air pollution policy; b) the use of local ventilation systems to mitigate the exposure to cooking-generated particles; c) the improvement of the overall indoor air quality by considering a mechanical ventilation system instead of the widespread natural ventilation in order to increase the air exchange rates. Even with the simultaneous application of specific actions, performed with the best technologies available, the corresponding estimated lifetime lung cancer risk (ELCR) values for the Italian population for the entire life were equal to 1.25×10−4 and 1.23×10−4 for males and females, respectively, well higher with respect to the maximum tolerable lifetime cancer risk, 1×10−5.