NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 13, 2006

New York and California have the most toxic air in the nation, says Joel Schwartz, of the American Enterprise Institute.

A study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated the average and range of air pollution cancer risks by county for the entire nation, and according to researchers:

  • Breathing 1999 pollution levels over a lifetime gives New York State residents an average cancer risk of 68 per million people.
  • For Californians the risk is 66 per million, and the national average is 42 per million.
  • But even at face value, these are actually small risks; for example, at 68 per million, the average New Yorker faces a 1-in-14,600 risk of developing cancer due to air pollution.

According to Schwartz, the EPA study was incomplete because it did not include diesel soot in its estimates:

  • California regulators discovered that it accounts for about 70 percent of total air pollution cancer risk.
  • If so, then the lifetime air pollution cancer risk for the average New Yorker rises to 1-in-4,400.
  • Additionally, about one-third of all American -- 330,000 per million -- will develop cancer sometime during their lifetimes; on a nationwide basis, this implies that only one of every 2,400 cancers (0.042 percent) is caused by air pollution.

Moreover, researchers even found that air pollution even in the "most toxic" areas of the country poses a miniscule cancer risk, says Schwartz; but the fact that even worst-case air pollution cancer risks are tiny hasn't stopped health experts from sounding false alarms.

Furthermore, while it would be wonderful if no one contracted cancer for any reason, it is clear that reducing air pollution will do virtually nothing to reduce the total burden of this terrible disease, says Schwartz.

Source: Joel Schwartz, "How Toxic Was My Valley," TCS Daily, April 4, 2006; based upon: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment for 1999: Estimated Emissions, Concentrations and Risk," EPA, February 2006.

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