Smog Linked To Cancer
February 8, 2002
LOS ANGELES (The Los Angeles Daily News)- Exposure to Los Angeles air pollution doubles the chances that infants and children will develop cancer later in their lives, researchers said in a report issued by a national environmental group.
The report studied 10 chemicals measured between 1995 and 2000 at monitoring sites in Burbank, downtown L.A. and Long Beach.
"We would not tolerate toxic chemicals with this kind of a cancer risk in children's cereal, but the federal government is tolerating it in our children's air," said Phill Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, which produced the report.
The report was billed as a sequel to a 1999 report produced by the office of Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, which showed that air toxics produced a lifetime cancer risk 400 times higher than that allowed by the EPA. The new report looked at later years and focused on children rather than adults.
Researchers calculated the cancer risk faced by children of different ages and adults over a lifetime by combining the exposure levels and the potency of the substances detected by the air monitoring stations.
Federal regulators generally consider a 1 in a million chance of contracting cancer -- added onto the risk already present from factors such as heredity or unhealthy habits -- to be an acceptable risk. The report concluded, however, that growing up breathing Los Angeles air uses up that risk before the average Angeleno learns to crawl.
"Children in Los Angeles are having all of that risk loaded into their first two months," Clapp said, adding that that those babies will carry that added cancer risk with them well into adulthood.
The report, titled "Toxic beginnings: A lifetime of chemical exposure in the first year," looked at the cumulative effect of exposure to chemicals that are rarely even measured in other cities and are inadequately regulated, according to leaders of the National Environmental Trust.
The report used emissions data for 10 chemicals known as air toxics, a class of 188 identified chemicals that exist as vapor or piggyback on microscopic particles that escape from gasoline and diesel engines, float from factory smokestacks and waft from chemical spills.
Most of the risk came from three chemicals -- 1,3 butadiene, benzene and formaldehyde, most of which come from gasoline engines.
The study also found that as children get older, they accumulate more cancer risk, which peaks between ages 3 and 5, when they accumulate another 14-in-a-million chance of getting cancer. By the time they reach age 18, the toxic substances in local air will give them a total added cancer risk of 70 in a million.
The group aimed the report at what it called the Bush administration's delay in imposing new restrictions on air toxics until 2004. The report, it said, provides further evidence to support prompt strengthening of standards on air toxics.
Besides cutting allowable levels of such chemicals, the group urges increases in vehicle fuel efficiency standards, which is to be debated next week as the U.S. Senate considers energy legislation.
Opponents of stricter regulation argue that existing regulations already provide plenty of protection for human health.
"If the risk to children is only twice that of the risk to adults, then we have a large margin of safety," said Jerry Taylor, director of natural resource studies at the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
The EPA leaves a minimum of a tenfold margin of safety to account for differences between children and adults, Taylor said, so "it's well within EPA's margin of safety."
But EPA spokesman Dave Ryan said air toxics are regulated individually, based on available pollution control and monitoring technology, not just on known health effects.
And the agency is taking the threat of such chemicals seriously, said Lisa Fasano, a spokeswoman for the EPA region that includes California.
"We take children's health seriously and we have grants that are funding additional research looking at this issue," Fasano said, adding that the new report "reinforces the importance of the work that we are also doing."
The report emphasized that California needs to take the lead in regulating air toxics, as it has done with other air pollutants in the past.
That process is already taking place, said Richard Varenchik, spokesman for the state Air Resources Board.
"Since 1990, the estimated cancer risk from toxic air pollution measured statewide has been reduced by 45 percent, even though California has had substantial growth in both the number of motor vehicles and industrial sources, which is where these contaminants come from," Varenchik said.
Those reductions have come about through tailpipe and smokestack regulations, along with mandates to use cleaner fuels, he explained.
Now the board is working on new regulations that would mandate a 75 percent reduction in chemical-carrying particulates through the use of cleaner diesel engines and cleaner burning diesel fuel, as well as the use of engines that use alternative fuels such as natural gas.
Martha Dina Arguello, environmental health coordinator for Physicians for Social Responsibility in Los Angeles, said much more of an effort is needed, however.
"We need to move away from fossil fuels and Detroit has to make more fuel-efficient cars and we need to promote more sustainable energy alternatives and sustainable transportation alternatives," she said.
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