|Why Didn’t EPA Calculate a Separate and Exact Cancer Risk From Diesel Emissions?|
|Tuesday, 19 April 2011 09:40|
EPA report timed to coincide with CDC’s report that states we are living longer and cancer deaths have dropped
Wasn’t it interesting that the EPA released its National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) Friday, March 18, two days after the CDC released its annual U.S. mortality report, titled Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2009. The NATA report draws on 2005 (six-year-old, pre-recession) data to examine potential health risks from airborne toxics and vaguely concludes that vehicle emissions—including diesel exhaust—pose “significant” health risks, even though the report added that U.S. industries’ emissions of airborne toxics from industrial and mobile sources fell 42% between 1990 and 2005, according to an updated computer database released on March 11 by U.S. EPA (Greenwire).
EPA’s mixed-message findings are, of course, raising tensions between environmentalists, who say the cancer risk posed by diesel exhaust is three times greater than risks from other airborne toxics (even sulfur dioxide), and industry groups, who maintain that the epidemiological studies do not support these conclusions and are quick to note that new diesel engines are among the cleanest and greenest—cleaner than even gas engines—and diesel emissions are already heavily regulated to achieve public health goals well into the future.
Both sides agree, however, that more needs to be done to address the 11 million or so older diesel engines still in use (mostly outside of California). And both point to a government program for retrofitting diesel engines to reduce toxic emissions. However, Congress and the Obama administration initially put the program on the budget chopping block. Created in 2005, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) program was budgeted for $1 billion to be spent over 5 years. After the Obama administration first indicated that it would not fund any new DERA funding, the enviros, DPF, and the engine manufacturing industry put the full court press on the administration. And, as expected, government did agree to provide additional industry funding. On January 5th, 2011, President Obama signed the reauthorization of the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA), The legislation authorizes $100 million annually for 5 years for a total of $500 million; however, the actual annual amount will depend on each year’s funding appropriation—meaning no guarantees.
Noting that there has been progress with diesel, environmental groups continue to parrot that it just isn’t good enough. Rich Kassel of the Natural Resources Defense Council said, “Despite 40 years of progress in moving toward cleaner vehicles, industrial sources and everything else, we still have a situation where every American faces a cancer risk due to airborne toxics,” adding, “To really move the needle on this problem, EPA has to address the diesel problem.”
In its assessment, now being looked at closely by industry, EPA noted that “all Americans have an increased cancer risk of greater than 10 in a million or 1 in 100,000 because of airborne toxics.” To put that in context, EPA toxics regulations are drafted for substances found to present a cancer risk to greater than 1 in a million. “This means that, on average,” EPA wrote, “approximately 1 in every 20,000 Americans have an ‘increased likelihood’ of contracting cancer as a result of breathing all air toxics (not just diesel emissions) from outdoor sources if they were exposed to 2005 emission levels over the course of their lifetime.” According to this EPA NATA report, this equates to 50 in every million people having an increased “likelihood.”
Typical of EPA, the report does not state whether there is any direct scientific proof that diesel emissions “cause” cancer. According to the CDC report released in late March, there were a total of 1,736 malignant neoplasms (all cancers) deaths in the U.S. per 1 million in 2009. The EPA’s report implies that as much as 3% of the population has an increased likelihood of cancer death caused by “air toxics,” but there is no mention of diesel emissions. Of course, the CDC does not identify diesel or vehicle emissions as a separate cause or sub-cause of cancer deaths within their report. There are approximately 153 causes and sub-causes of death in this report. Specifically, the EPA report highlighted two substances in vehicle emissions as being particularly dangerous: formaldehyde and benzene, as well as diesel exhaust in general, with its 200-plus components.
Contrary to these hyped-up cancer and death claims coming from EPA, the CDC report showed that life expectancy in the U.S. has hit another all-time high, for the 10th year in a row, up to approximately 78 years and two months. In addition, about 36,000 fewer people died in 2009 compared to 2008, and the infant mortality rate hit a record low of 6.42 deaths per 1,000 live births. This translates to a 3% decrease from the year before. The report also noted that for all three of these primary causes of death, each has decreased from the previous period, some significantly. The primary causes are diseases of the heart, which dropped 3.7%; malignant neoplasms “cancer,” which dropped 1.1%; and chronic lower respiratory diseases, which dropped by 4.1%.
So, why didn’t EPA calculate a separate cancer risk in their report from diesel emissions?
The reason, according to the EPA, is that no specific unit risk estimate is available to do so.
Instead, EPA focused on the effects of diesel soot or particulate matter on respiratory problems and not cancer directly. There are differences, big differences! The report aggressively attacks diesel as an evil substance and does not differentiate between clean, ultra low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) and new technology diesel engines from older diesel formulations and engine technology. It’s just all bad, politically speaking! “EPA has concluded that diesel exhaust is among a variety of substances that ‘may’ pose the greatest risk to the U.S. population,” the agency said.
Greatest risk of what?
Many industry associations, groups, and those most affected by these absurd claims question EPA’s calculations. And while EPA did not calculate diesel exhaust’s cancer risk, not surprisingly, an environmental group called the Clean Air Task Force (CATF) has—with, of course, the help of CARB.
The Clean Air Task Force (CATF) in a Boston-based nonprofit established in 1996. It states on their website that their “mission is to closely examine the nation’s diesel engine fleet, trucks, buses, and construction equipment that spew nearly as many lethal pollutants as the nation’s power plants.” In 2002, the organization claims that it began the Diesel Clean-Up Campaign with targeted public education events (which industry refers to as propaganda) in more than a dozen states as well as a vigorous campaign for change at the federal level. Many state and federal initiatives have gone forward, with mandates and funding that will reduce diesel emissions substantially in the coming years. Now, that sounds pretty objective.
Yes, CATF, in their separate study with the help of CARB, found that the average lifetime cancer risk from diesel exhaust to be 159 times greater than EPA’s acceptable one-in-a-million cancer risk standard for air toxics. “The fact of the matter,” CATF’s Conrad Schneider said, “is that diesel is a risk almost everywhere because diesel engines are present everywhere. Not only is this one of the biggest problems, but it’s one of the most widespread.” Environmental groups are quick to note that only about 10-15% of heavy diesel engines are new and clean. Diesel watchdogs estimate that there are between 1-1.5 million diesel engines in use that adhere to the strictest diesel regulations or have been retrofitted with effective emissions reducing filters.
Diesel industry groups are pushing back against the EPA assessment and the environmental group’s political science study. The CATF study is so implausible, it is a joke!
Allen Schaeffer, the executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum (DTF), said NATA is based on 2005 (old) data that does not take into account major strides made by the diesel industry to clean up its fuel and engines. “A lot of these [claims] are very retrospective views,” he said. “In the case of diesel, it’s especially retrospective when you’ve had so much change so fast.” Specifically, Schaeffer pointed to developments since the 2005 diesel engine standards.
New standards for both clean diesel and engine emissions, especially for particulate matter from on-and off-highway vehicles have been significantly reduced, Schaeffer said. Further, new diesel engines have near-zero toxic emissions. He pointed out that EPA failed to calculate a specific risk assessment for diesel exhaust because of the “complexities and uncertainties” of evaluating the toxic values of diesel exhaust.
Industry questions if the EPA, with all its resources and activist brainpower, can’t do anything to find the exact premature deaths and health risks, how can some environmental activist nonprofit organization with CARB’s guidance do it? They can’t of course—it is all junk science endemic of the problems we have within the public health sciences community.