August 23, 2019

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New Rule in the Bay Area Could Curb Cancer Related to Air Pollution

Air Pollution

Officials in the Bay Area unanimously passed a rule earlier this month requiring greenhouse gas-producing industries to alter business practices if it can be shown that nearby residents are exposed to an increased risk of cancer. Thanks to the new regulation, the standard for determining the risk of cancer will soon be the strictest in the country. According to the new standard, if the risk of cancer is increased by at least 10 in a million, the plant deemed responsible must change its ways. That’s much lower than the 25-in-a-million threshold utilized in South Coast. The rule will likely affect nearly 400 businesses throughout the region, including hospitals, landfills, data centers and crematoria, to name a few.


Jack Broadbent, the executive officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management (BAAQM) District, expressed his excitement over the rule. “This rule is a critical step toward controlling toxic air pollutants from facilities, delivering cleaner air for our most vulnerable communities,” he told the East Bay Times.

Walt Gill, a spokesperson for Chevron, noted that “[t]he proposal will promote clean air, but it has shortcomings.” In addition, he called the 10-in-a-million standard “a lofty goal” that “is putting the Bay Area at a disadvantage.”


As noted in an overview of the rule (Regulation 18, Rule 11) published by the BAAQM, the rule will gradually take effect, lowering the “risk action threshold” from the current level of 100 chances per million to 25 per million in 2018 and 10 per million in 2020. The air district will implement the rule over the next few years, first prioritizing facilities according to need and then assessing the risk of each one. The BAAQM estimates that it will assess around 100 facilities between 2018 and 2019, and another 300 facilities by 2021.

Those industries deemed in excess of the 10-in-a-million standard will then have to submit a risk reduction plan. After several months of drafting the plan, the business will have five years to implement the alterations – or 10 years if it can be shown that the risk reduction plan puts too much of a burden on the company.

As outlined in the Staff Report on Regulation 18, Rule 11, the rule will curb the negative impact of several toxic air contaminants (TACs). These include: diesel particulate matter, carbon tetrachloride, benzene, 1,3-butadiene, hexavalent chromium and formaldehyde.

Air Pollution

For those who feel compelled to side with Walt Gill, it would be beneficial to consider the fact that air pollution is a major factor in premature deaths throughout the world. According to the World Health Organization, ambient air pollution is connected to three million premature deaths globally, accounting for nearly a quarter of diseases and deaths related to lung cancer. And according to a recent study, air pollution is linked to oxidative stress, tissue damage and chronic systemic inflammation.

What’s more, according to a report released by the International Journal of Cancer, liver cancer patients stand to benefit from decreased air pollution. The study found that those suffering from this type of cancer are less likely to survive in areas saturated with smoke, greenhouse gases and other damaging particles. Those with advanced liver cancer are exposed to a risk 10 percent greater than those without ambient pollution.

Federal Level

As with many issues, progressive environmentalism has been relegated to localities throughout the country and has been effectively cut off from federal politics. That’s why the bay area is able to implement such a strict standard for pollution-producing industries, while the White House (with the backing of Congress) insists on chipping away at environmental regulations. With respect to air pollution, earlier this year, the EPA proposed delaying an Obama-era rule meant to prevent methane and greenhouse gas leaks in oil and gas facilities.

The agency did this knowing full well that the two-year stay would disproportionately affect children. However, they maintained, “Any impacts on children’s health caused by the delay in the rule will be limited, because the length of the proposed stay is limited.” But it is currently uncertain what the regulation would look like after the delay.

Joanne Spalding, of the Sierra Club, suggested a probable motivation for the stay: “This isn’t simply mean-spirited, it’s a deliberate attempt to benefit the oil and gas industry at the expense of our public health.” For now, we’ll have to look to our cities and towns if we want to find vestiges of progressive environmentalism.

About Sean Lally

Sean Lally holds a BA in Philosophy from Temple University where he also studied theatre for several years. Between 2007 and 2017, he worked as a professional actor for several regional theater companies in Philadelphia, including the Arden Theatre Co., EgoPo Productions, Lantern Theater and the Bearded Ladies. In 2010, Sean co-founded Found Theater Company, an avant-garde artist collective with whom he first started to cultivate an identity as a writer.

Over the past few years, Sean has been working as a content writer, focusing primarily on the ways in which unequal power distribution can negatively affect consumers, workers and “everyday people,” more broadly. He writes for a number of websites including,, and others.