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It's practically official: Air pollution can cause lung cancer. In a recently published study in the science journal Nature, Italian researchers af the University of Trieste and the University of Milan compared regional mortality rates with the biodiversity of lichens and found a direct correlation between lung cancer and air pollution.
The researchers observed the number and diversity of lichen species in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy, discovering that in areas where sensitive lichens had been killed off by air pollution, there were increased human mortality rates and a significantly higher incidence of lung cancer. Human-made pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and dust also were found to have significant adverse effects upon lichen diversity and mortality.
This confirmation by Italian researchers is somewhat of a breakthrough the link has eluded the results of previous studies. However, their hypothesis that lung cancer is correlated with lichen biodiversity as a result of air pollution proves an almost intuitive concern in a convincing manner. Although the relative risk of exposure to pollution is small, the affected population is not.
[See: Cislaghi C, Nimis PL. Lichens, air pollution and lung cancer. Nature, May 29, 1997; 387:463-464.]