ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH: State Expected To Say Diesel Emissions Cause Cancer
California is likely to become "the first state in the nation to declare the particulates in diesel exhaust a cancer-causing threat to public health." The Sacramento Bee reports that industry and public health interests reached an agreement on the declaration yesterday, which the state Air Resources Board is expected to approve today. One lobbyist called the declaration "the most important public health statement since the U.S. surgeon general identified cigarette smoke as a carcinogen in 1964." Sierra Club lobbyist Bonnie Holmes-Gen said, "We're finally closing the door on 'does it or doesn't it' cause cancer, and moving toward developing a regulatory plan to reduce human exposure." The agreement ends nine years of dispute between industry advocates who feared "the economic and legal implications of tighter standards" and public health and environmental advocates "wanting stricter pollution controls" (Cox, 8/27). The Los Angeles Times reports that if the ARB agrees to the compromise language in the declaration, "the state must set out to review ways to clean up diesel particulates, perhaps by tightening emission standards for future trucks and stepping up efforts to remove old, smoking vehicles from California roads, farms and construction sites" (Cone, 8/27).
Under the compromise, only the particulates, or soot, from diesel exhaust would be designated as a "toxic air contaminant," and the ARB would acknowledge "that much of its current data is based on health-risk studies" that were done years ago when engines emitted more particles because fuel was dirtier. The Bee reports the latter concession "is intended to relieve the concerns of industry lawyers who feared the ARB's scientific findings would be used in lawsuits brought against businesses under Proposition 65." That initiative, approved in 1986, "requires public health warnings wherever certain chemicals could pose a health risk." Diesel exhaust was added to the list in 1990 (8/27).
Don't Breath Deeply
According to the state's Scientific Review Panel, an estimated 14,000 Californian's could eventually die from lung cancers caused by diesel exhaust exposure. This number is derived from the panel's estimate that being exposed to average concentrations of diesel exhaust over a lifetime causes 450 lung cancers among every 1 million people. The Times reports that researchers "are uncertain what exactly causes cancer," but "have focused on particulates, which are easy to inhale deep into the lungs" and can carry other carcinogens. Daniel Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, said "most of the apparent health danger from diesels can be addressed by reducing" particulates, because only "a small amount of toxic gases are found in diesel gases." The Times notes that diesel particulates have been "linked" to other health threats, including heart attacks and asthma (8/27). Click diesel to read past California Healthline coverage of this issue (Note: hypertext links are available to online readers only. To register for online access, go to the California Healthcare Foundation's website at www.chch.org).