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#95 - Urgent Action Alert: EPA Setting Deadly Air Standards, 18-Sep-1988

We rarely ask our readers to write their government, but today we urge
you to take up the pen IMMEDIATELY and write two sentences. The health
of your family is at stake, and you only have until October 3rd to act.
Mr. Reagan's EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) is about to
decide how much risk the American public is willing to accept from
toxic industrial air pollution. The decision will have far reaching
consequences; as many as 25,000 people may be legally killed or injured
each year by each air pollutant if the decision goes the wrong way.

Congress passed the federal Clean Air Act in 1970 and within a few
years the EPA set regulations for six kinds of air pollution: sulfur
dioxide, particulate matter (soot), carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen
oxides, and lead.

In 1977, Congress was not satisfied by the "progress" EPA was making
toward cleaning up the nation's air and they passed Section 112,
requiring the EPA to control toxic air emissions. Since then (11 years
later), EPA has used Section 112 to set air regulations for six more
pollutants: radionuclides, beryllium, mercury, vinyl chloride, benzene,
and arsenic. So in 18 years, EPA has set regulations for 12 air
pollutants (out the thousands that exist).

Some of these Section 112 standards (national emission standards for
hazardous air pollutants, or NESHAPS) were challenged in court, and the
judge decided the EPA really wasn't doing its job. The judge told the
EPA to go back and start over on toxic air pollutants.

The judge said the EPA must take two steps whenever they regulate the
emission of a toxic air pollutant: (1) the EPA must determine a "safe"
or "acceptable risk" level (the judge used the terms interchangeably);
and (2) the EPA must then set an emission level that may not be higher
than (but may be lower than) the "safe" level and that protects public
health with an ample margin of safety. The judge said that the EPA may
not consider economic factors, or feasibility, in determining what is a
"safe" level, though they may consider economics and feasibility in the
second step (deciding on an ample margin of safety).

Now the EPA wants YOU to tell them what YOU consider a "safe" level or
an "acceptable risk" level for toxic air pollutants. On July 28, 1988,
EPA published a notice in the FEDERAL REGISTER (pgs. 28496-28592),
seeking comments on how much risk the public is willing to endure from
toxic industrial air pollutants. The immediate goal is to set a
standard for benzene, a known human carcinogen, but EPA says this will
form the basis for all their toxic air pollutant standards from now on.
Since 75% of the American people live near an industrial facility, the
EPA's current effort may directly affect 180 million people.
Indirectly, it will affect all 245 million Americans, so this is an
enormously important decision.

The EPA is considering four different ways of deciding what risk is
"acceptable." They label these Methods A, B, C, and D.

Method A is the "case by case" method. Method A would leave the EPA
free to decide for itself how much pollution was OK. Basically, this is
the "trust me, I know what's best for you" method.

Method B considers only the "total incidence" of disease. Under Method
B, the EPA would not consider the risk to any individual but would only
consider the total number of people made sick or killed. They propose
that one death per year from each kind of regulated pollutant would be
acceptable. This method would allow small groups of individuals all
over the country to be subjected to very high individual risks--
literally comparable to Russian roulette in our neighborhoods. Failure
to limit the risks to individuals would allow a few individuals to
endure a much higher risk than the general public would endure.

Method C would consider ONLY the risk to individuals, and the
"acceptable" lifetime risk of death from each pollutant would be one
chance in ten thousand. This means if you exposed 10,000 people to the
legal amount of that pollutant, one of those 10,000 people would die.
Since there are about 245 million Americans, this method says (in
simplest terms) it's OK for each regulated pollutant to kill 24,500
people each year.

Method D is the same as Method C except that it's 100 times stricter:
Method D considers ONLY the risk to individuals and it says the
"acceptable" risk is one in a million. In effect, this method says its
OK for each regulated pollutant to cause disease or death in 245
Americans each year.

The EPA reportedly favors Method C, the one that would limit individual
risk to one in ten thousand, thus allowing each pollutant to kill or
injure up to 24,500 Americans each year. You may be shocked that your
government might propose air standards that seem so lax. However, EPA
considers that they are beefing up some earlier positions they have
taken. For example, in 1985, they published the opinion (FEDERAL
REGISTER, Feb. 6, pgs. 5191, 5193) that an individual's lifetime cancer
risk of one chance in a thousand was too insignificant to regulate.
Compared to this 1985 approach, the Method C proposal, which would
limit an individual's cancer risk to one in ten thousand, can be
considered an improvement.

Method A, which would allow the EPA to decide what's an "acceptable
risk" on a case by case basis, gives the agency too much leeway. Almost
everyone familiar with EPA will agree that the agency cannot be trusted
to make decisions consistently to protect public health and safety.
EPA's discretion should be limited.

Method B could also be rejected because it fails to protect the lives
of individuals. Method B would allow small numbers of people in
isolated neighborhoods to be sacrificed. Recent history tells us the
sacrifice would occur in neighborhoods inhabited by the poor, the
poorly educated, the politically unorganized, and by minorities. WE
BELIEVE NO INDIVIDUALS SHOULD BE SUBJECTED TO HIGH RISK.

Of the four methods proposed, only Method D, which limits the risks
endured by individuals, comes close to being satisfactory, in our view,
and even Method D seems highly questionable. Killing people is wrong.
It is also unconstitutional. The U.S. Constitution says no one may be
deprived of life or liberty without "due process." Method D seems to
say it's OK for each regulated pollutant to kill a few hundred people
each year without due process. No indictment, no trial, nothing. Their
"crime" is living near an industrial facility, which most of us are
"guilty" of.

We ask you to take 3 minutes to write a brief note to the EPA saying
something like, "I don't think it's acceptable to kill anyone with
industrial air pollution. Of the methods you proposed July 28 for
deciding what's an acceptable risk for benzene, I favor the approach of
Method D, limiting individual risk, but I want something stricter than
one in a million." Or tell them whatever you like. WHAT IS MOST
IMPORTANT IS THAT THEY KNOW YOU'RE WATCHING THEM. We'll keep you
posted.

Send your letters BEFORE OCTOBER 3 to: Central Docket Section (LE-131),
Docket No. OAQPS 79-3 Part I, Environmental Protection Agency, 401 M
Street, SW, Washington, DC 20460. You can bet industry will send
comments, so we had better do the same.

--Peter Montague

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Descriptor terms: air; air quality; standards; epa; air pollution;
health; congress; legislation; clean air act; sulfur dioxide;
particulates; carbon monoxide; ozone; nitrogen oxides; lead;
regulations; enforcement; risk assessment; health statistics; benzene;
carcinogens; strategies; disease statistics; regulation; cancer;
acceptable risk; national emission standards for hzardous air
pollutants;