On October 17 the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, has declared outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans. It is a monumental decision that is bound to affect the future in a positive way. About time, you’d have to agree.

Outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer and increases the risk of bladder cancer, the report said.

Particulate matter, while a major component of air pollution, was analyzed separately and declared a carcinogenic substance by itself. Nothing new there.
Where is it all coming from? From transportation, stationary power generation, industrial and agricultural emissions, and residential heating and cooking. In other words, we’re surrounded.

I have been decrying the dreadful reality of air pollution for a while now, not losing hope that things can be changed, but realizing that tweaking the minds of fellow humans is a gargantuan task.

As the cold weather approaches, idling cars make their appearance. Not significant, some might say, compared to industrial pollution. But, here’s the thing: everything adds up.

A few years ago I wrote a feature article for a health publication in Calgary on the topic of environmental allergies, asthma and diesel exhaust as a trigger for both. A new study had come out pointing to fine particulate matter such as the one derived from diesel exhaust – the new and improved diesel fuel that is – as a serious threat to human health and a cause for respiratory problems.

Scientists agonize over far-reaching air pollution that travels in all corners of the world. It’s sobering to think that polar bears walk around carrying the shortest stick of all, healthwise. Various pollutants have been found in high concentrations in their bodies; a dirty inside in stark contrast to their snow white coats.

Yet closer to home, the reality – and threat – of air pollution is impossible to ignore.
There’s countless debates over the proposed Ajax mine. Pro and cons arguments are being tossed on all sides, dressed with stinging words and put on the table again. And, to be fair, there are pro and con arguments.

But if the proposed mine becomes reality and increases the levels of air pollution in Kamloops we will all pay the price. The first ones to pay the price will be people with chronic respiratory diseases, those with a genetic predisposition to cancer, and children. The rest of us will follow swiftly.

Too apocalyptic? Not at all. Real, if anything. If A causes B and B causes C, then establishing the connection between A and C is a matter of logic and social responsibility.

Debates aside, I think we’re drawing near – on a global scale – to the point where any new industrial development should only be allowed to happen if it is vital to a community. The decision should be made based on industry and independent panel reviews, and also based on the objectively-assessed needs of the community where the project is about to be developed.

Wants versus needs has been played to death, some would say. And it is bad enough when wants take precedent over needs and affect our emotional well-being, empathy levels and general health (cheap, chemical-laden conventionally produced food.)

But when it’s about a real threat that will materialize in chronic diseases with the grimmest outcome, then we should seriously reconsider priorities.
From idling cars to big industrial projects, we have choices and responsibilities. We owe it to ourselves and our children to exercise them.

Published as a column under the same title in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on October 26, 2013