Home > Uncategorized > Murphy DEP Updates Air Pollution Cancer Risk Levels, Ignores Cumulative Impacts And Environmental Justice Considerations

Murphy DEP Updates Air Pollution Cancer Risk Levels, Ignores Cumulative Impacts And Environmental Justice Considerations

Once again, Murphy Spin In Conflict With Science

EJ Communities Had No Knowledge Of Or Role In DEP Revision Process

[Update below]

While Gov. Murphy and his environmental cheerleaders are congratulating themselves over their proposed environmental justice legislation (which relies exclusively on individual DEP permit reviews), the Murphy DEP just revised and updated air pollution cancer and health risk screening levels that form the basis for air pollution permit reviews and pollution control requirements, and thus will have a huge impact on environmental justice communities.

The revisions were made to the DEP’s technical protocols for conducting risk assessments as part of the air pollution permit review process. They are based largely on federal EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), not NJ specific conditions or DEP scientists’ recommendations.

As far as I can tell, while there was considerable involvement by industry experts in DEP’s process for making these revisions, there was little or no involvement by the public, health experts, and the environmental justice and environmental communities. In addition to the industrial stakeholder process, just look at who provided comments to DEP on the risk screening document and who DEP is giving an inside track and heads up and responding to (source, see: DEP reply to industry comments):

Also, outreach was done to stakeholders during the rule development process.

In addition, the Notice of Revision was announced in a May 7, 2019 Air Quality Regulation Listserv email and discussed at the June 7, 2019 Industrial Stakeholder Groups (ISG) meeting in Trenton. The deadline in the Notice of Revisions for submission of comments was June 10, 2019. The Department announced at the ISG meeting that additional comments submitted after this deadline would be accepted and evaluated.

Here is the DEP document, with DEP’s explanation:


The NJDEP Division of Air Quality list of inhalation toxicity values and the risk screening worksheet have been updated.

Specific changes to the unit risk factors (URFs), long-term reference concentrations (RfCs), and short- term RfCs are noted below. The revisions are incorporated into the list of “Toxicity Values for Inhalation Exposure,” dated June 2020.

Let me first put that DEP document in context.

Air pollution is perhaps the single largest source of adverse public health impacts and risks to overburdened poor and/or minority communities, particularly in urban locations. Residents are chronically exposed to hundreds of individual chemical air pollutants from multiple concentrated sources of pollution (industry, cars, trucks, garbage incinerators, sewage treatment plants, aircraft, ships, etc).

People are exposed to not only air pollution, but multiple other sources and routes of exposure, including water pollution, workplace exposures, food contaminants, and risks from solid and hazardous waste facilities and toxic sites.

The health risks from these exposures are exacerbated by other socio-economic and land use factors, such as poverty, lack of healthcare, lack of access to fresh foods & vegetables (“food deserts”), lack of access to open spaces, exercise and recreational opportunities, and other health stressors, from noise and “heat islands” to structural and individual racism.

These health impacts, risks from pollution and socio-economic factors are disproportionately concentrated in poor and minority communities.

This phenomenon is what has given rise to the environmental justice movement.

With that in mind, and at a time when the Governor himself is touting his concerns about environmental justice, it is remarkable that the DEP’s revisions ignore the key scientific aspects of cancer risks to urban environmental justice communities, which are:

1) people’s exposure to multiple individual cancer causing air pollutants from current background pollution levels;

2) the cumulative impacts of multiple exposure pathways to multiple individual pollutants, and

3) the existing actual health conditions and susceptibility and vulnerability of the exposed population.

In addition to these significant gaps and flaws, the DEP science, risk screening revisions, and overall policy do not address what public health advocates call the “precautionary principle“, which is:

The precautionary principle, proposed as a new guideline in environmental decision making, has four central components: taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty; shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of an activity; exploring a wide range of alternatives to possibly harmful actions; and increasing public participation in decision making.

As we can see, in addition to ignoring environmental justice, the DEP fails all four prongs of the precautionary principle.

Industrial stakeholders themselves exposed the fraud of the DEP screening process. In their own words, DEP rarely imposes additional pollution controls to protect public health: (see comments #2 and #5, by NJBIA & an industry consultant)

A tool with underlying conservative modeling assumptions, and the way that it is applied, will fail four times more health risk evaluations, almost guaranteeing that an applicant will need to conduct expensive and time-consuming refined health risk analysis which ultimately, in most cases, demonstrates that the application is acceptable without any additional emission mitigation.[….]

Today, using the current RSW, when a permit application fails the RSW and performs the complex refined analysis, the vast majority of the applications pass the refined analysis step without making any real health risk mitigation. The proposed revisions to the RSW will kick most sources into refined modeling, and again we expect that the vast majority of applications will pass that step.

We need real reforms – not token symbolic gestures by the Governor and cheerleading by his sycophants in the “environmental community”.

[Update – Intro: We hope we are not guilty of not providing adequate context:

Disparity figures without explanatory context can perpetuate harmful myths and misunderstandings that actually undermine the goal of eliminating health inequities. Such clarifying perspective is required not just for Covid-19 but also for future epidemics. […]

First, data in a vacuum can give rise to biologic explanations for racial health disparities. Such explanations posit that congenital qualities unique to specific racial minorities predispose them to higher rates of a particular disease. […]

Second, lone disparity figures can give rise to explanations grounded in racial stereotypes about behavioral patterns. […]

Third, geographic disaggregation of Covid-19 data is welcome but requires caution ….

In sum, to mitigate myths of racial biology, behavioral explanations predicated on racial stereotypes, and territorial stigmatization, Covid-19 disparities should be situated in the context of material resource deprivation caused by low SES, chronic stress brought on by racial discrimination, or place-based risk. (read the entire article) ~~~ end update]

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