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The role of threshold limit values in U.S. air pollution policy


This paper analyzes the role of threshold limit values (TLVs) in national air pollution policy during the 1980s, a period in which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sought to delegate to individual states the authority to evaluate and regulate airborne toxic substances. We focus on 20 carcinogens and 11 substances with non-genotoxic health effects that were regulated by local air toxics programs using TLVs. Data from EPA's National Air Toxics Information Clearinghouse indicate that maximum TLV-based Ambient Air Level guidelines (AALs) frequently exceed minimum TLV-based AALs by a factor of greater than 1,000. Cancer potency data from EPA's Integrated Risk Information System suggest significant risks remain at TLV-based AALs. Cancer risks at the median TLV-based AAL exceed 1,000 cases per million exposed persons for cadmium (1,040), nickel and its compounds (1,420), propylene oxide (1,550), coke oven emissions (1,860), benzene (2,500), arsenic and its compounds (7,300), N-nitrosodimethylamine (21,000), asbestos (21,500), and ethylene dibromide (55,000). We also summarize published studies that report non-genotoxic health effects in workers exposed at levels near the TLV for 11 substances whose AALs were based on TLVs. Contrary to the assumption frequently made by state air toxics program, TLVs cannot be taken to represent no observed effect levels (NOELs) for regulatory purposes.

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