The risk of cancer from air pollution is fairly trivial

Joel Schwartz has an interesting piece over at Tech Central Station:

Based on EPA's own estimates, air pollution even in the "most toxic" areas of the country poses a miniscule cancer risk. More importantly, EPA's cancer risk estimates are grossly inflated, because they depend on the false assumption that chemicals pose the same per-unit cancer risks at real-world trace exposures as they do at massive laboratory exposures.

EPA released its 1999 National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) late last month. NATA estimates the average and range of air pollution cancer risks by county for the entire nation, based on estimates for 177 different chemicals. . . .

Here are the key numbers. If you believe the EPA, the national average risk for cancer from air pollution is 42 per million people. Including diesel soot raises that risk to 140 per million people. As it is, 330,000 per million people get cancer. So for the average American air pollution raises the risk by about .042 percent.

In Manhattan, the risk from air pollution is "454 per million if you include diesel." Presumably the risk from cancer generally is also higher. but for the sake of argument take the national average cancer rate. In that case, air pollution adds about .1376 percent to the risk of cancer. The question is obvious: what would it be like living in Manhattan without the benefits produced by the pollution? What about anyplace else in the country?


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