Diesel cancer risk 'most dangerous'

Posted: 30 July 2001

Exhaust from diesel engines in the United States accounts for 78 per cent of the total added cancer risk in outdoor air from all hazardous air pollutants combined, according to a new analysis of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data.

The analysis, by the Environmental Defense Organisation (EDO), is based on a massive EPA study, which provides detailed estimates of the levels of 41 top hazardous air pollutants in every community in the United States. EPA's previous version did not include information on diesel particulate emissions.

"The dominance of diesel in the unhealthiness of our air is a revelation," said David Roe, Environmental Defense senior attorney. "It couldn't be seen before, only because studies weren't trying to look for it."

Environmental Defense's website, Scorecard.org, is able to translate quantities of hazardous air pollutants into cancer risks, both nationally and at the local level. For any locality, see: www.scorecard.org/env-releases/hap/community.tcl.

"The bad news is that cancer risks from air toxics are much higher than the public has been told before. The good news is that a great deal of the air toxics problem can by addressed by focusing on just this one pollutant.Cutting diesel exhaust has to be priority number one for everyone concerned about the health of our air."

Diesel's predominance leads to surprising results. For example, supposedly clean San Francisco shows a risk level of 2,600 additional cancer cases per million, with 90 per cent of the risk coming from diesel emissions. The goal set in the Clean Air Act for air toxics is a maximum of one additional case per million.

The air pollution comes both from diesel vehicles on the roads, like trucks and buses, and from offroad equipment like bulldozers and heavy construction machinery. "Offroad diesel equipment is a big part of the problem that most people don't realize, and that is long overdue for emission controls," Roe said.

Environmental Defense, a leading national nonprofit organization based in New York, represents more than 300,000 members. Since 1967 we have linked science, economics, and law to create innovative, equitable, and cost-effective solutions to the most urgent environmental problems.