NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 15, 2005

With the high concentration of chemical manufacturing and refining plants in coastal Texas compared to other regions of the country, it is natural that coastal Texas has higher than average emissions and that there is heightened attention paid to those risks, says H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

  • In one sense, the employees of those plants and those who live and work in the surrounding communities are living experiments on the effects of human exposure to synthetic chemicals.
  • Yet a recent article from the Houston Chronicle could not produce evidence that the ambient air levels of chemicals resulted in higher cancer rates among those living and working near the plants.
  • And if employees, those most regularly exposed to the chemicals in question, had higher than average cancer rates, the Chronicle failed to note that as well.

The hypothetical risks posed by benzene, 1,3-butadiene and formaldehyde should be put in context. While they are potential carcinogens, so are half of all the chemicals that have been tested for carcinogenic effects, both artificial and natural. That's right -- natural chemicals in coffee, beer, tomatoes and common tap water, among the myriad of products that have been tested, cause cancer in laboratory rats, says Burnett.

When setting clean air standards the most important questions to ask are: Would the benefits of stricter standards in terms of human health and welfare outweigh the health- and economic costs incurred by the proposed standards? And, are the costs likely to deliver more health and welfare benefits than other allocations of scarce public resources?

Source: H. Sterling Burnett, "Clean and Cleaner: Houston's forecast? Continuing improvement in our air quality," Houston Chronicle, March 12, 2005.


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