updated 2/11/2008 9:26:00 AM ET 2008-02-11T14:26:00

A study released Friday found the cancer risk from air pollution in Southern California is down 15 percent, but the good news was tempered by the reality that the region still has some of the dirtiest air in the country.

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"While we see some improvements, the remaining risk level is way too high," said Barry Wallerstein, executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which conducted the two-year study.

Scientists estimate that about 1,200 of every one million people in the region will get cancer linked to the dirty air if they live about 70 years. Health experts consider an acceptable level to be 10 cases for every one million people.

The study said the risk more than doubled to 2,900 per million for those who live around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where diesel use is significant.

Diesel exhaust alone accounts for 84 percent of the region's cancer risk, the study said.

Remaining risk 'unacceptable'
William Burke, chairman of the air district board, said progress was being made in reducing toxic air pollution.

"However, the remaining cancer risk is completely unacceptable," he said. "Thousands of residents are getting sick and dying from toxic air pollution. Some of them live in low-income, minority neighborhoods that may be heavily impacted by cancer-causing air pollution."

The two ports combined account for more than 40 percent of all containerized cargo entering the U.S. each year. Port growth has raised concerns in surrounding communities about the impact of pollution from trucks, cargo ships and other vehicles.

Officials have been working on a plan to reduce air pollution by an estimated 80 percent over the next five years.

"I believe the 800-pound gorilla is the particulate matter from diesel emissions," said air district board member Miguel Pulido, who represents Orange County.

The study said high cancer risk areas include Burbank, downtown Los Angeles, Fontana, Huntington Park and Wilmington. The area with the lowest cancer risk was Anaheim.

Researchers collected more than 18,000 air samples from ten sites. The samples showed a decrease in pollution related to some toxic cleaning solvents.

The study found that the overall cancer risk from air pollution declined from a study done in 1999. The current study began in 2004.

The air district covers parts of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and all of Orange County. The areas have a total population of 16 million people.

Board members suggested tackling the problem by working more closely with the California Air Resources Board and joining a state lawsuit against the federal government that would create the country's first greenhouse gas limits on cars, trucks and SUVs.

Burke also proposed creating teams of experts to identify specific sources of air pollution that could be targeted with regulations.

The board will solicit public comments on the study for 90 days and will prepare an update to its Air Toxics Control Plan based on the study's findings. That plan will be presented to the board this summer.

"There's tremendous work to do still," Burke said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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