California Children at Higher Risk of Cancer than Adults from Air Pollutants
California children have a higher risk of contracting cancer from inhaling toxic air pollutants than do the state's adults, according to an environmental study released today, the Los Angeles Times reports. The study, produced by the National Environmental Trust, an environmental advocacy group, examined pollution concentrations in the Los Angeles region, the Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley, the Sacramento Valley and San Diego. According to the study, a two-week old baby in the Los Angeles region has been exposed to more air pollution than the federal government considers acceptable over a lifetime. Further, by the time a child in the Los Angeles area reaches age 18, he or she will have exceeded the acceptable exposure standards "hundreds of times over," the Times reports (Polakovic, Los Angeles Times, 9/16). According to the study, children in Sacramento have exceeded the lifetime limit for cancer exposure by their 23rd day, while children in San Francisco and San Diego have exceeded the limit by their 19th day (Anderson, Fresno Bee, 9/16). Andy Igrejas, NET's environmental health program director, said, "The concentration of cancer-causing air pollution in California is so great that, just by breathing this air, children will accumulate cancer risks that are pretty astounding."
The Times reports that California is the country's "smoggiest" state, mostly because of industrial and automotive chemicals. The toxins can cause cancer, reproductive health problems and neurological damage. Children are especially vulnerable to air pollutants because they are "more active," breathe in more air than adults and their developing immune systems and cells are assailable by carcinogens, according to Melanie Marty, chief of toxicology for the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Environmentalists, doctors and parents are calling for stronger safeguards from pollution for children, the Times reports. "We have got to redouble our efforts to control toxic air pollution," U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said. Meanwhile, state health officials have identified five toxic contaminants considered "especially harmful to children" and are working on proposals to reduce them.
Despite the study's results, it is "unclear" whether the higher cancer risk from air pollutants actually correlates with higher numbers of cancer cases, experts say (Los Angeles Times, 9/16). Igrejas said, "It's very hard to link those things directly, but what we are saying is everyone acknowledges that air pollution adds to the risk." He added that the study's goal was to "underscore the urgency and the need to move as aggressively as possible to clean up this pollution," the Bee reports. Stephen Stephenson, a pediatric oncologist and medical director for Children's Hospital Central California, said, "It is probably safe to say children are at greater risk from pollutants ... but this study doesn't do anything to help us measure what our risk is." Stephenson added, "This greatly exaggerates the risk to children and presents it in a way that they wanted to make an extreme point" (Fresno Bee, 9/16).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.