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Risk Anal. 2000 Apr;20(2):273-91.

Air toxics and health risks in California: the public health implications of outdoor concentrations.

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University of California-Berkeley, School of Public Health, Environmental Health Sciences Division 94720-7360, USA.


Of the 188 hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) listed in the Clean Air Act, only a handful have information on human health effects, derived primarily from animal and occupational studies. Lack of consistent monitoring data on ambient air toxics makes it difficult to assess the extent of low-level, chronic, ambient exposures to HAPs that could affect human health, and limits attempts to prioritize and evaluate policy initiatives for emissions reduction. Modeled outdoor HAP concentration estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Cumulative Exposure Project were used to characterize the extent of the air toxics problem in California for the base year of 1990. These air toxics concentration estimates were used with chronic toxicity data to estimate cancer and noncancer hazards for individual HAPs and the risks posed by multiple pollutants. Although hazardous air pollutants are ubiquitous in the environment, potential cancer and noncancer health hazards posed by ambient exposures are geographically concentrated in three urbanized areas and in a few rural counties. This analysis estimated a median excess individual cancer risk of 2.7E-4 for all air toxics concentrations and 8600 excess lifetime cancer cases, 70% of which were attributable to four pollutants: polycyclic organic matter, 1,3 butadiene, formaldehyde, and benzene. For noncancer effects, the analysis estimated a total hazard index representing the combined effect of all HAPs considered. Each pollutant contributes to the index a ratio of estimated concentration to reference concentration. The median value of the index across census tracts was 17, due primarily to acrolein and chromium concentration estimates. On average, HAP concentrations and cancer and noncancer health risks originate mostly from area and mobile source emissions, although there are several locations in the state where point sources account for a large portion of estimated concentrations and health risks. Risk estimates from this study can provide guidance for prioritizing research, monitoring, and regulatory intervention activities to reduce potential hazards to the general population. Improved ambient monitoring efforts can help clarify uncertainties inherent in this analysis.

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