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EPA Study: 2.2M Live In Areas Where Air Poses Cancer Risk
Wednesday, 24 June 2009

USA Today

EPA Study: 2.2M Live In Areas Where Air Poses Cancer Risk
By Brad Heath and Blake Morrison

The government's latest snapshot of air pollution across the nation shows residents of New York, Oregon and California faced the highest risk of developing cancer from breathing toxic chemicals.

The results, compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency, represent the most sweeping analysis to date of the state of the nation's air. The analysis is based on emissions from 2002, the latest year for which the EPA had detailed estimates of pollution from across the nation.

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Called the National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment, or NATA, the study is used by the EPA to identify parts of the country where residents could face the greatest health threats from air pollution.

The assessment found air pollution generally presented high health risks around major cities such as New York and Los Angeles — although some of the counties where the air was even worse were in rural areas of Mississippi and Kentucky.

Almost 2.2 million people lived in neighborhoods where pollution raised the risk of developing cancer to levels the government generally considers to be unacceptable. There, toxic chemicals were significant enough that people who breathed the air throughout their lives faced an extra 100-in-1 million risk of getting cancer.

Many of those people — about 847,000 — lived in New York City. The worst single neighborhood lay between two freeways in Cerritos, Calif., outside Los Angeles. There, the EPA estimated an excess cancer risk of more than 1,200 in 1 million, 34 times the national average.

Pollution threats are still less pronounced than risks such as smoking, says John Walke, clean air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Even so, the assessment "shows we have a problem we should expect government to solve by reducing toxic air pollution, because it makes a lot of people sick."