Cancer-Causing Fuel Approved by Environmental Protection Agency Despite Risk Being a Million Times Above Acceptable Levels

EPA has been found to have made a controversial decision regarding boat fuel which can cause cancer, 

Approved Despite Risk Assessment

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently approved a boat fuel made from discarded plastic, despite its own risk assessment showing that the substance could lead to cancer in everyone exposed to it over their lifetime. 

Higher Risk

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This risk level is a million times higher than what the EPA typically considers acceptable for new chemicals, and even worse than the risk of lung cancer from a lifetime of smoking.

Ruled by Federal Law

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Federal law requires the EPA to review the safety of new chemical products before allowing them on the market. 

If something poses unreasonable risks, the EPA must find ways to reduce those risks before approval. 

An Exaggeration

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However, in this case, the EPA did not follow that process and decided that its scientists were exaggerating the risks. 

Minimal Safety Equipment

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The agency gave Chevron permission to produce the new boat fuel ingredient at its Mississippi refinery without requiring any significant remedies except for mandating workers to wear gloves.

“Climate Friendly”

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ProPublica and the Guardian previously reported on the risks of other plastic-based Chevron fuels, approved under an EPA program that aimed to be “climate-friendly.” 

Toxic Air Pollution

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The highest risk from one of these fuels was expected to cause air pollution toxic enough to potentially give 1 out of 4 people cancer over their lifetime.

Not Sharing

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When questioned about the risks, the EPA initially declined to provide its risk assessment. 

More Risk Revealed

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However, later investigations revealed that the boat fuel ingredient had an even higher cancer risk, with a 1.3-in-1 chance, meaning every person exposed to it throughout their life could be expected to get cancer.

Inside Perspective

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Maria Doa, a scientist who worked at the EPA for 30 years, noted that such high risks were unusual. 

The EPA usually limits the lifetime cancer risk from an air pollutant to one additional case in a million people. 

For the fuel, the risk is an alarmingly high 1 in 1.3.

Food Contamination

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Another significant cancer risk associated with the boat fuel ingredient was that consuming fish raised in contaminated water could lead to cancer in 7 out of 100 people over their lifetime. 

This risk was 70,000 times higher than what the EPA typically considers acceptable.

Acknowledgment of Mistake

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The EPA acknowledged that they made a mistake by not including these high risks in the consent order for the new fuels. 

Conservative Assumptions

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The agency claimed that the cancer risk estimates were “extremely unlikely and reported with high uncertainty” due to conservative assumptions used in modeling. 

Same, Same

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They also argued that the risks from these new chemicals were similar to existing fuels, so additional protections were unnecessary.

Concern From Environmental Bods

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Six environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, expressed concerns about the risks from these fuels. 

They challenged the EPA’s characterization of the cancer risks and urged the agency to withdraw its approval.


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The EPA later acknowledged that they mislabeled critical information about the harmful emissions. 

The consent order referred to cancer risk from “stack air,” but the EPA later clarified that it meant pollution released from the exhaust of jets and boats, not smokestacks near residential areas.

Growing Harm

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The risk assessment also highlighted additional risks to infants from some of the new fuels, but the EPA didn’t quantify these effects or take any measures to limit the harms. 

Some of these chemicals are expected to persist in nature and accumulate in living organisms, which should trigger additional restrictions, but the EPA hasn’t implemented them.

Review Proposals

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In June, the EPA proposed a rule requiring companies to contact the agency before producing 18 fuels listed in the Chevron consent order. 

The EPA would then review the oil used to create these fuels to ensure it doesn’t contain unsafe contaminants found in plastic. 

Significant Contamination

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However, environmental advocates remain concerned that the fuels pose significant risks even without additional contamination.

Not Good Enough

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The problem is the EPA approved a boat fuel made from discarded plastic, despite its risk assessment showing high cancer risks. 


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Environmental organizations are challenging the approval, and the EPA has proposed a rule to review the production of such fuels. 

However, concerns remain about the potential dangers posed by these plastic-based chemicals.

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