- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

D.C. residents breathe some of the most dangerous air in the country, according to an updated Environmental Protection Agency study.

The agency ranked the District fourth behind New York, California and Oregon based upon tests in 1999 for 177 air toxins, including lead, solvents and benzene, which is found in gasoline.

Agency officials said 7-year-old data was used because it is the most complete and up-to-date available. They also said the risk of getting cancer or another serious illness from breathing the toxins might now be less.

“Since 1990, we’ve significantly cut toxic emissions and risks in the United States,” said Bill Wehrum, the agency’s acting assistant administrator.

However, 41.5 U.S. residents per 1 million in 1999 were liable to get cancer from the air they breathed, according to the report.

The risk factor in New York was 68 persons per million and 53.5 persons per million in the District.

The agency said Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana had the cleanest air, but could not readily provide information for Maryland and Virginia yesterday.

By comparison, the agency states all causes of cancer — not just air toxins — may infect one of every three persons, or 330,000 persons out of a million.

The study is similar to a recent one by researchers at Yale University and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that found increases in soot, dust, smoke and liquid droplets in the air increased hospitalizations among elderly Medicare enrollees.

“Our study is specific to the elderly, but there is epidemiological evidence that air pollution also affects the health of the younger population,” said Francesca Dominici, a Hopkins associate professor and the study’s lead author.

The EPA study showed the air pollutants most likely to cause cancer or leukemia come from cars, trucks and other motorized sources that burn gasoline, kerosene or diesel fuels.

“The major force in this area is the vehicles,” said Robert Day, environmental specialist with the District’s Environmental Health Administration.

However, EPA spokesman John Millett said vehicle emissions are much cleaner than they used to be and that the next study might show improvement.

The agency also expects that existing fuel and vehicle standards will by 2030 bring toxic passenger-vehicle emissions 80 percent below 1999 emissions.

“We’ve seen action taken, and more needs to be done,” Janice Nolen, the American Lung Association’s director of National Policy, said yesterday. “We will insist upon it.”

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