Good Timing, Bad Air

The Orange County Register reports this morning that the Irvine-based Beckman Foundation has donated $20 million to the City of Hope in Duarte, to help finance cancer research. The Foundation has an excellent sense of timing– because, as every other newspaper in the state is reporting this morning:

Californians breathe the second-dirtiest air in the nation, with residents of Los Angeles and Orange counties exposed to a cancer risk that's about double the national average, according to a new report.

(If the Reg has this story, I can't find it on its website.)

Yes, if you're concerned about your health, you might want to stop breathing now.

The report by the EPA's National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment estimates that one in every 15,000 Californians - or 66 per million - is at risk of contracting cancer from breathing the air during his or her lifetime. The cancer threat is 93 per million in Los Angeles County and 79 per million in Orange County.

If the "just stop breathing" plan seems a little too extreme, you could consider moving to where the clean air is.

Rural residents of Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana breathed the cleanest air.

Given that alternative, suddenly holding your breath doesn't seem so bad, does it?

But what if the EPA is wrong about how filthy the air is? Well, there's a chance it is:

California officials say the cancer risk is far greater than the EPA estimates, primarily because its report did not include diesel exhaust. When that's factored in, the cancer risk soars 15-fold, meaning 1,400 residents per million could get cancer from air pollution in the Los Angeles basin, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

It may be time to consider renting scuba equipment, and just Jacques Cousteau-ing your way through your daily routine.

Of course, it's still possible that the EPA could take steps to dramatically improve air quality, but since we're living in the age of Bush, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.


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