EPA Releases Information about Toxic Air Raising the Risk of Cancer

The Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday that residents of certain states face noticeably higher cancer risks than those in other states because they breathe in more toxic chemicals.

Now, keep in mind that even though this is a new assessment, the data it's based on is seven years old.

The EPA said:

"The National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA), based on 2002 air emissions data, helps federal, state, local and tribal governments identify areas and specific pollutants for further evaluation to better understand risks they may pose.

"Air toxics are of concern because they are known to or are suspected of causing cancer and other serious health problems, including birth defects. The report assessed 180 air toxics plus diesel particulate matter from stationary sources of all sizes and from mobile sources such as cars, trucks, buses and construction equipment.

"The 2002 NATA estimates that most people in the United States have an average cancer risk of 36 in 1 million if exposed to 2002 emissions levels over the course of their lifetime. In addition, 2 million people -- less than one percent of the total U.S. population -- have an increased cancer risk of greater than 100 in 1 million. Benzene was the largest contributor to the increased cancer risks."

The Associated Press summarized the EPA's assessment, saying:

"Parts of Los Angeles, California and Madison County, Illinois had the highest cancer risks in the nation -- 1200 in 1 million and 1100 in 1 million, according to the EPA data. They were followed by two neighborhoods in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and one in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama.

"People living in parts of Coconino County, Arizona and Lyon County, Nevada had the lowest cancer risk from air toxics. The counties with the least toxic air are Kalawao County, Hawaii and Golden Valley County in Montana.

"'Air toxic risks are local. They are a function of the sources nearest to you,' said Dave Guinnup, who leads the groups that perform the risk assessments for toxic air pollutants at EPA. 'If you are out in the Rocky Mountains, you are going to be closer to 2 in a million. If you are in an industrial area with a lot of traffic, you are going to be closer to 1100 in 1 million.'"

Additional resources

See how USA Today broke down the information.
Look up emissions data for your area.
Take a closer look at your state using this county-by-county cancer risk map.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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