Illinoisans face 502 times greater cancer risk from air pollution

Illinoisans face 502 times greater cancer risk from air pollution


Illinois residents face a 502 times greater risk of developing cancer in their lifetimes as a result of breathing toxic chemicals in the outdoor air, according to a new report released by the Illinois PIRG Education Fund, the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago and Citizen Action/Illinois.

The new report, Dangers of Diesel: How Diesel Soot and Other Air Toxics Increase Americans’ Risk of Cancer, finds that the average Illinois resident faces a 1-in-1,992 risk of getting cancer from pollutants in the outdoor air, which is 502 times greater than the one-in-one million health protective standard established in the Clean Air Act. And 87 percent of this added cancer risk is from filthy soot released by diesel-powered trucks, buses and construction and farm equipment. The report comes as the Bush administration faces crucial decisions on new standards for dirty diesel construction and farm equipment and their fuel.

“This is an unacceptable cancer threat to Americans, and one that we can virtually eliminate,” said Brian Metcalf, environmental advocate for the Illinois PIRG Education Fund. “Step one for the Bush administration is to implement the tough standards that are on the books for diesel trucks, buses and fuels. Step two is to adopt stringent new standards for the diesel engines and fuel that power construction and farm equipment.”

The Illinois PIRG Education Fund researchers analyzed recently released U.S. EPA data from 1996, the most recent year for which data are available, to estimate the potential cancer risks associated with exposure to 33 hazardous air pollutants in order to better understand the magnitude of the cancer risk from air pollution. Given the dominant role played by toxic emissions from cars, trucks, and non-road engines, the report also provides detailed estimates of the potential cancer risks posed by five priority mobile source air toxics. Because the report does not consider the serious non-cancer health effects associated with the pollutants, it underestimates their health impacts.

In addition to finding that most of the cancer risk from air pollution in Illinois results from diesel soot, other key findings include the following:

l Illinois had the 5th highest emissions of diesel soot nationwide. Diesel soot has been linked to lung cancer and triggers asthma and other respiratory effects. The fine particles in diesel soot also can exacerbate existing heart and lung disease, cutting short tens of thousands of lives each year. In Illinois, construction equipment and other non-road diesel engines released 70 percent of diesel emissions in 1996; the remaining 30 percent of emissions were from trucks and buses.

l Residents in every county in Illinois were exposed to diesel emissions at levels that far exceeded the cancer benchmark concentration, or an added cancer risk of one-in-one million, in 1996. On average, residents breathed levels of diesel soot 443 times the cancer benchmark concentration. Risks were highest in Cook, DuPage and Lake counties.

l Illinois ranked 8th nationwide for emissions of benzene. Benzene causes leukemia and is associated with anemia and damage to the immune system. Benzene also may impair fertility in women and cause adverse developmental effects. In 1996, cars, trucks and non-road engines released 91 percent of total benzene emissions.

l Illinois residents were exposed to benzene emissions at levels that exceeded the cancer

benchmark concentration in 1996, with residents of Cook, Lake and DuPage counties facing the highest risks. The average exposure concentration in Illinois was 12 times the cancer benchmark concentration.

l Illinois had the 8th highest emissions of formaldehyde nationwide. Formaldehyde may cause lung, nose and throat cancers, a well as adverse respiratory effects. In 1996, cars, trucks and non-road engines released 45 percent of total formaldehyde emissions.

l On average, residents of Illinois were exposed to formaldehyde emissions at levels 15 times the cancer benchmark concentration in 1996, with Cook, DuPage and Lake counties facing the highest risk.

“This report exposes Illinois’ air quality crisis from airborne toxics,” stated Brian Urbaszewski, director of Environmental Health Programs, American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago. “Diesel is deadly. Delaying the clean up of all sources of diesel exhaust means more cancer, asthma attacks and premature deaths for Illinoisans.”

To reduce Americans’ exposure to cancer-causing air pollutants, particularly harmful diesel emissions, the groups are calling on the Bush administration to press ahead with the strongest possible standards for dirty diesel construction, farm and industrial equipment, like bulldozers, forklifts and tractors, and their fuel. These engines contribute 66 percent of the added cancer risk from diesel pollution in the state.

The groups applauded the U.S. EPA for its commitment to fully implementing landmark standards to clean up diesel trucks and buses, which were adopted in 2001. These standards will slash diesel emissions from trucks and buses by more than 90 percent, the equivalent of taking 13 million of the nation’s 14 million trucks and buses off the roads. In addition to reducing the cancer risk from exposure to diesel exhaust, EPA estimates that the standards will prevent more than 360,000 asthma attacks and 8,300 premature deaths each year.

The U.S. EPA is in the process of developing new standards for diesel construction and farm equipment and their fuel, with a formal proposal due out early in 2003. These standards should be equivalent to the standards for diesel trucks and implemented in the same time frame. Such standards could prevent another 180,000 asthma attacks and 8,500 premature deaths each year and could save $67 billion in health care costs annually, according to a recent report by state and local air quality officials.

As part of the “non-road” diesel proposal, the administration is considering developing an emission-trading program between the truck and non-road sectors. “A market-based trading program could undermine the crucial emissions reductions required for diesel trucks and buses and impede the clean up of non-road engines,” stated Ashley Collins, environmental director for Citizen Action/Illinois. “With so many lives at stake, the adoption of a trading scheme for diesel emissions would be recklessly negligent,” Collins added.

The groups also called on EPA to take additional steps to reduce toxic emissions from cars, trucks and non-road engines by crafting an aggressive mobile source air toxics rule. Specifically, the groups said that EPA should fulfill its Clean Air Act mandate to control toxic emissions from mobile sources and their fuels by adopting regulations to:

1. establish a nationwide fuel benzene cap;

2. expand the use of modern emission controls on old diesel engines and non-road gasoline engines, and

3. increase the number of intrinsically clean, advanced technology vehicles, like hybrid electric cars, on the roads.

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