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Study: Diesel Exhausts Cause Cancer

March 15, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) - Toxic chemicals in diesel exhausts from trucks and buses are responsible for at least 125,000 cancers over a lifetime, according to a study by a coalition of state and local air pollution control agencies.

The state officials' report being released today comes as the petroleum industry is stepping up a campaign to persuade the Clinton administration to back off from plans for tougher pollution controls on diesel fuel.

Although the new regulations for diesel, now under review at the White House, would not go into effect until 2006, industry groups hoped the current turmoil about diesel fuel prices - and to some extent supply - might help sway the administration.

The Environmental Protection Agency's proposal, sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget earlier this year, would sharply reduce the sulfur content in diesel fuel and require other pollution improvements.

An EPA spokeswoman, Kim Ruby, declined to comment on the proposal, except to say it had been sent to the White House.

 Some industry groups and government sources said it would require sulfur levels in diesel to be reduced from 500 parts per million to 15 per million by 2006, though the specifics could still be changed.

The state regulators, along with environmentalists and health advocates, planned to release the new analysis on diesel and cancer risks, partly in response to the industry push to try to get the EPA regulation withdrawn.

"These (diesel) fumes are putting us at risk of cancer, a risk that can be almost completely eliminated with modern pollution controls," said William Becker, executive director of the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators.

The group, which represents state pollution control officials, conducted the analysis that concludes an additional 125,000 people would be expected to get lung cancer during their lifetime as a result of exposure to chemicals and soot from diesel fuel.

Becker said there have been many epidemiological studies linking diesel soot and lung cancer and that the 125,110 estimated of additional cancers was "an extremely conservative figure" using the same methodology used by regulators in California in estimating diesel-related cancers.

"The actual numbers of cancers could easily be 10 times as high," maintained Becker.

Last year, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the air pollution control agency in the Los Angeles area, concluded that 70 percent of the total cancer risks from transportation sources in the region came from diesel emissions.

Becker said his group's analysis used the California methodology and extended it nationwide, using air pollution monitoring data from both metropolitan and rural areas and accounting for population distributions. It estimated 119,570 additional cancers in metropolitan areas and 5,540 such additional cancers in rural areas nationwide.

The state regulators as well as the American Lung Association and several environmental groups including the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Clean Air Network, maintain these health statistics make a strong argument for pressing ahead with the proposed EPA diesel rules.

But in a letter earlier this week to the EPA, nine organizations representing a variety of interests from refiners and oil companies to convenience store operators and farm cooperatives, urged that the diesel rule be withdrawn.
"EPA's proposal for diesel sulfur is likely to reduce the supply of diesel fuel as well as heating oil and even gasoline," they said in a letter to EPA Administrator Carol Browner.

The letter noted recent trucker protests about soaring prices and said the EPA proposal was "a blueprint for future shortages of diesel and home heating oil."

Diesel prices have soared from a nationwide average of 96 cents a gallon a year ago to more than an average of $1.50 a gallon, according to the Energy Department, with prices in some areas of more than $1.86 cents a gallon.

The increases have been attributed by the Energy Department to increases in crude oil costs and supply shortages caused by a cutback in world oil production.