US: Study says diesel emissions raise cancer risk

Publisher Name: 
The San Francisco Chronicle


(03-19) 19:04 PDT OAKLAND --
Diesel emissions from trucks, machinery and other sources elevate the
risk of premature death, cancer, asthma and other chronic diseases for
more than 3 million people living in West Oakland and the surrounding
region, according to the most detailed study yet on the issue.

The analysis by the California Air Resources Board, released
Wednesday night, shows that the greatest health dangers related to
toxic air emissions stems from diesel trucks traversing the freeways
and other roadways around West Oakland and the Port of Oakland.

The two-year public health inquiry covered a large swath of the Bay
Area - an area of 3,800 square miles that is home to 3.1 million
people. The residents had an elevated risk of cancer - nearly 1,200
additional cancers per million people due to long-term exposure to
diesel particulate matter than people living elsewhere, the study
reported in preliminary findings.

The study also found other considerable health problems resulting
from exposure to port-related diesel pollution: 18 potential premature
deaths annually occurring among people 30 and older, 290 asthma
attacks, 2,600 days of work lost and 15,000 "minor restricted activity
episodes."

Exposure to diesel particulate matter is a hazard especially for
children and elders. The air board has estimated that the toxins
contributed to some 160 premature deaths in the Bay Area three years
ago.

"We no longer live in the Industrial Age. People should not be
exposed to known toxins in their own homes," said Dr. Anthony Iton,
director of the Alameda County Public Health Department.

He said that the report, which he had not yet read, confirms earlier health findings.

"We have extensive data on the disproportionate burden of disease in
West Oakland," he said. "We hope that this health risk assessment will
be helpful in quantifying the responsibility of the port to the adverse
health outcomes in West Oakland."

The study concentrated on three sources of the toxic air
contaminant: the Port of Oakland, the Union Pacific Railroad near the
port, and freeway truck traffic and nonport-related marine vessel
traffic in and around West Oakland in general. Diesel trucks accounted
for 70 percent of the elevated health risks - amounting to 850
potential cancer cases per million above the expected rate of cancer in
the general population. Of the remainder, 15 percent of the total risk
came from port operations - 200 excess cancer cases - and 5 percent
came from Union Pacific rail-yard emissions - 40 additional cancer
cases. The remainder came from a variety of other sources including
Amtrak and construction businesses in the area.

Similar studies have been conducted to assess health risks
associated with the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, but this one
included a much wider region than the others. "It was a huge
undertaking," said Patricia Rey, a spokeswoman for the air board.

Taking a novel approach to measure marine vessel emissions, the
large study utilized data from 33 onshore and offshore weather stations
to generate a regional wind field.

"This health risk assessment will provide the community the focus
and momentum needed to mobilize and combat air pollution," said Mary
Nichols, chairman of the air board. "We look forward to working with
community activists to converge on the main pollution culprits, such as
trucks motoring on nearby freeways, affecting a growing and vibrant
West Oakland."

This week Port of Oakland commissioners began reviewing a slate of
goals designed to reduce diesel emissions by 85 percent over the next
dozen years.

The port had come under heavy criticism in recent years for the
dirty emissions of trucks doing business with it. In 2005, county
public health officials compiled state data revealing that West Oakland
children ages 5 and under visited the emergency room for asthma at a
rate nearly three times higher than children in Alameda County overall.
Additionally, a study of death certificates dating to the 1960s showed
that residents of West Oakland lived 10 years fewer than people living
in the Oakland hills.

The Air Resources Board is a department of the California
Environmental Protection Agency. The study was conducted in cooperation
with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Port of Oakland
and Union Pacific Railroad.

E-mail Elizabeth Fernandez at efernandez@sfchronicle.com.

AMP Section Name:Environment
  • 182 Health
  • 193 Transportation
  • 208 Regulation