A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health indicates that babies and unborn children exposed to high concentrations of engine exhaust have an increased risk of developing childhood cancer. This is true even though the overall risk of childhood cancer remains low.
The study included the records of 22,500 children born between 1953 and 1980 who died from leukemia or other cancers before age 16. Considering various chemicals from carbon monoxide to benzene, researchers determined national chemical emissions "hotspots" using maps from the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI). They then calculated the distance between the hotspots and each child’s birth address.
The new findings corresponded with the results of earlier studies, which seemed to indicate many childhood cancers probably start in early infancy or in the womb. Thus, it would appear that childhood cancer has a direct correlation with the mother’s exposure to toxic emissions in the atmosphere.
Places like bus depots, where there is an unusually high concentration of diesel exhausts, appear to be most dangerous according to the researchers.
Butadiene, one of the most hazardous chemical compounds in terms of toxicity to humans and a key component (1.3-butadiene) of exhaust fumes, appears to be the most likely culprit.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), butadiene is in the top 10% of compounds most hazardous to humans and the environment. The U.S. alone produces 25% (1.5 million tons) of the annual global output (6 million tons) of the deadly toxin.
The children at greatest risk appear to be those living within 0.2 miles of a bus station. The study showed them to be 12 times more likely to die of cancer. Children living within 0.2 miles of either a hospital or a heavy vehicular transportation center also appear to be at greater risk.
In those instances, the risk of a child dieing from cancer is more than double in the case of a hospital and slightly less than two times greater when a high-exhaust area is concerned.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 9,000 American children under the age of 15 are diagnosed with cancer each year in the U.S. and some 1,500 die from the disease.