Cancer health risk significantly underestimated by EPA's ambient model estimates

The cancer risk from exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is vastly underestimated by current models that rely solely on ambient emissions. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health showed that cancer risk figures based on actual measured exposure for communities in Baltimore, Md. were as much as three-fold greater than estimates given by models. Their study is the first of its kind to directly compare the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Assessment System for Population Exposure Nationwide (ASPEN) model results to indoor, outdoor and personal exposure measurements. Scientists use pollutant exposure measurements to estimate public health risk. Such a comparison is important in evaluating the validity of ASPEN, which is being used nationally to assess the public health impact of ambient air toxins. The study, "Personal Exposure Meets Risk Assessment: A Comparison of Measured and Modeled Exposures and Risks in an Urban Community" is published in the April 2004 issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Timothy J. Buckley, PhD, MHS, the senior author of the study and an associate professor in the School's Department of Environmental Health Sciences, said, "The public health implications of our findings loom large. ASPEN has already shown that for many U.S. census tracts, risk from ambient air toxins exceeds acceptable levels. Now our data indicates that because of significant indoor source contributions, these risks are much worse."

Passive air sampling badges were used to compare personal, outdoor and indoor residential concentrations of VOCs for 33 non-smoking, adult study participants to ASPEN ambient estimates. The researchers wanted to learn how well ASPEN represented indoor and personal exposures, since such measures form the basis for the true public health risk.

For VOCs that have significant indoor sources, such as chloroform, the researchers found that ASPEN far underestimated the

Contact: Kenna L. Brigham
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

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