Ohio EPA’s Cancer Scare

January 7, 2011

By Steve Milloy
January 7, 2011, GreenHellBlog.com

As if there’s not enough to be worried about already, the Ohio EPA just reported that residents in seven Ohio counties face a great than acceptable risk of cancer from air pollution.

Based on air monitoring data, the Ohio EPA reported that cancer risks ranged from 1.01 additional cancers per 10,000 people in Scioto County to 2.1 additional cancers per 10,000 people in Columbiana County.

But these claims are specious and the scare is irresponsible.

First, even accepting for the sake of argument the dubious notion that the low levels of exposure to the metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at issue actually increase cancer risk, people should be aware of the insignificance of the risk.

Like it or not, about 44 percent of all men and 37 percent of all women will develop some sort of cancer during their lifetimes. This means that of every 10,000 men and women, about 4,000 will develop cancer over their lifetime.

If what the Ohio EPA claimed were true, the 4,000-estimate would increase to perhaps 4,002 — an insignificant and undetectable change that would be lost in the margin of error.

But then, that’s only if there is a real cancer risk from the exposures at issues — and that is doubtful.

There are no scientific studies of human populations showing that typical exposures to the ambient concentrations of the metals and VOCs at issue have ever caused anyone’s cancer risk.

So what the Ohio EPA did was to rely on the U.S. EPA’s risk assessment methodologies — a very dubious proposition.

In the mid 1990s on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy, I led a comprehensive study of the EPA’s risk assessment practices – none of which have changed in any significant way since that time.

We found that in the face of omnipresent gaps and uncertainties in scientific knowledge and data, the EPA employs assumptions that are usually not science-based.

In deciding whether or not to label a chemical as potentially causing cancer, for example, the EPA typically relies on laboratory studies in which cancer-susceptible rodents are virtually poisoned with unrealistically high doses of the chemical. If the rodents then exhibit increased rates of cancer, however slight, then the EPA assumes that the same thing will happen in humans.

But mice are not little people. They metabolize chemicals differently than humans — a fact that the EPA only grudgingly admits once in a while when researchers have gone to great effort and expense to make the point as they did, for example, in the case of unleaded gasoline.

The Ohio EPA calculated make-believe, not actual cancer risks. Its cancer alarmism relies on presumptuous assumptions that are scientifically indefensible.

The dirty secret that America’s environmental establishment doesn’t want to acknowledge, much less publicize, is that our air is clean and safe. We are now in an era of ever-vanishingly small returns from ever-increasing environmental regulation.

American manufacturing is on the decline and jobs are going overseas. While there are many reasons for this phenomenon, they include excessive environmental regulation.

Sure the Ohio EPA can tighten its air quality regulations and write more stringent permits to reduce the hypothetical cancer risks to “acceptable levels,” but at some point, employers will say enough is enough and simply move on to more welcoming jurisdictions.

Do Ohioans really want its government to chase away jobs for no good reason, and then be terrorized with baseless cancer scares to boot?

Steve Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and is the author of Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them” (Regnery 2009).

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