The risk of getting cancer from diesel fumes is small, but since so many people breathe in the fumes in some way, the science panel said raising the status of diesel exhaust to carcinogen from "probable carcinogen" was an important shift.

"It's on the same order of magnitude as passive smoking," said Kurt Straif, director of the cancer arm of the WHO. "This could be another big push for countries to clean up exhaust from diesel engines."

Since so many people are exposed to exhaust, Straif said, there could be many cases of lung cancer connected to the contaminant. He said the fumes affected groups including pedestrians, ship passengers and crew, railroad workers, truck drivers, mechanics, miners and people operating heavy machinery.

The new classification followed a weeklong discussion in Lyon, France, by an expert panel organized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of WHO.

The last time the agency considered the status of diesel exhaust was in 1989, when it was labeled a "probable" carcinogen. Reclassifying diesel exhaust as carcinogenic puts it into the same category as asbestos, alcohol and ultraviolet radiation.

The U.S. government, however, still classifies diesel exhaust as a likely carcinogen. Experts said new diesel engines spew out fewer fumes but further studies are needed to assess any potential dangers. -- AP

NewsdayTV goes behind the scenes of the Gilgo Beach investigation, revealing the shocking findings in the year since the arrest of Rex Heuermann. NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa reports.

Unearthing a suspect: The Gilgo Beach killings NewsdayTV goes behind the scenes of the Gilgo Beach investigation, revealing the shocking findings in the year since the arrest of Rex Heuermann. NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa reports.

NewsdayTV goes behind the scenes of the Gilgo Beach investigation, revealing the shocking findings in the year since the arrest of Rex Heuermann. NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa reports.

Unearthing a suspect: The Gilgo Beach killings NewsdayTV goes behind the scenes of the Gilgo Beach investigation, revealing the shocking findings in the year since the arrest of Rex Heuermann. NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa reports.

Latest videos

YOU'VE BEEN SELECTED

FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.