Guardian: “This ‘climate-friendly’ fuel comes with an astronomical cancer risk”

Essay by Eric Worrall

The Guardian seems to be falling out of love with the Biden administration’s plan to recycle plastic into allegedly toxic biofuel. Chevron denies there is a problem.

This ‘climate-friendly’ fuel comes with an astronomical cancer risk

This article is co-published with ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power

Sharon Lerner
Fri 24 Feb 2023 11.03 AEDT

“That kind of risk is obscene,” said Linda Birnbaum, former head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “You can’t let that get out.”

That risk is 250,000 times greater than the level usually considered acceptable by the EPA division that approves new chemicals. Chevron hasn’t started making this fuel yet, the EPA said. When the company does, the cancer burden will disproportionately fall on people who have low incomes and are Black because of the population that lives within three miles of the refinery that will produce the fuel in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

In response to questions from ProPublica and the Guardian, an EPA spokesperson wrote that the agency’s lifetime cancer risk calculation is “a very conservative estimate with ‘high uncertainty’”, meaning the government erred on the side of caution in calculating such a high risk.

In January 2022, the EPA announced the initiative to streamline the approval of petroleum alternatives in what a press release called “part of the Biden-Harris administration’s actions to confront the climate crisis”. While the program cleared new fuels made from plants, it also signed off on fuels made from plastics even though they are petroleum-based and contribute to the release of planet-warming greenhouse gases.

In an email Chevron spokesperson Ross Allen wrote: “It is incorrect to say there is a one-in-four cancer risk from smoke-stack emissions. I urge you [to] avoid suggesting otherwise.” Asked to clarify what exactly was wrong with the statement, Allen wrote that Chevron disagrees with ProPublica and the Guardian’s “characterization of language in the EPA consent order”. That document, signed by a Chevron manager at its refinery in Pascagoula, quantified the lifetime cancer risk from the inhalation of smokestack air as 2.5 cancers per 10 people, which can also be stated as one in four.

Read more:

Is the risk as bad as the Guardian claims? Chevron says no. I’m not sure I’m satisfied with their answer.

All I can say, I’m not putting that stuff in my gas tank. I think I got my lifetime exposure to organa-chlorides and dioxane working in decrepit plastics factory with questionable ventilation as a teenager. I’m not interested in topping up the dose.

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February 24, 2023 11:21 pm

Hard to know what chemicals they are talking about but by inference dioxins making flues from PVC

I doubt anyone would make fuels from chlorinated plastics more like poly ethylene or poly polypropylene

This looks like a wind up to me what do you expect from the Guardian the libtard rag

Rich Davis
Reply to  Eric Worrall
February 25, 2023 3:22 am

Oh the horror of talksick Kemikles! Like dihydrogen monoxide, the forever chemical that has been detected in every major reservoir and even in Antarctica.

Reply to  Rich Davis
February 25, 2023 11:01 am

Dihydrogen monoxide is a good example of the potential abuse of linear harm analysis methods wrt to chronic & acute. Acute inhalation exposures can extremely hazardous, while long term chronic exposures are generally harmless & sometimes beneficial.

Rich Davis
Reply to  DonM
February 26, 2023 4:56 am

Yes, “water” as it is sometimes also referred to, can cause drowning, but is strictly necessary to avoid dehydration. Excellent point.

My admittedly flippant comment comes down to my dismissing excessive fear of chemical exposure. If you survived exposure forty years ago, any cancer today is very unlikely to be from that exposure but rather due to your aging weakening immune system.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  DonM
February 26, 2023 5:49 pm
Rick C
Reply to  Eric Worrall
February 25, 2023 9:10 am

It appears that the alleged risk is for a lifetime exposure of breathing the effluent. That wouldn’t seem to preclude temporary events like a contaminated input or process malfunction. It would also imply poor engineering of exhaust systems and scrubbers if pollutants end up contaminating the local air shed. If it’s based on typical EPA procedures the study is based on massive exposure doses and an extrapolated result based on a pile of “conservative” assumptions.

Reply to  HB
February 25, 2023 2:04 am

One hopes that you are right. However, I somewhat wonder about how thorough any sorting of disposed plastic would be.

Richard Greene
February 25, 2023 12:53 am

Guardian: “Waking up in the morning is a cancer risk”
This comment is serious, not satire

Leo Smith
Reply to  Richard Greene
February 25, 2023 1:20 am

And is perfectly true. We are Schrödinger’s cat. Open the box tomorrow, and we may be alive, or dead.

Dave Andrews
Reply to  Richard Greene
February 25, 2023 8:47 am

Being born is a cancer risk!

Reply to  Richard Greene
February 27, 2023 9:28 am

We live in a world that the majority wears – or sleeps under and on – chemically treated or made fibers that have cancer causing properties and not pure cleaned un-dyed fibers of cotton or of animal skins or wool using natural, non-chemical processes. The majority of building materials have a radioactivity as does most of the earth and the solar and cosmic radiation. The amount of potentially hazardous cancer-causing sources depends upon your exposure to it all.

Leo Smith
February 25, 2023 1:15 am

The way to burn plastics safely is is well known.Very high temparatuires degrade the long chains into simpler compunds, the trace organicc that are left can be run through the equivalents of a catalytic concverter, and the resultant gasses water-scrubbed to remove e.g. chlorine.
The risk from complex organochlorines is removed by the high temperature processing which simply breals them down.

That is my understanding, but without actula detail on the nature of the plant, which, naturally, the Guardian fails to supply, we cant know exactly what is proposed.

Reply to  Leo Smith
February 25, 2023 1:24 am

Details, schmeetails…..who needs ’em, lol. ‘Tis after all the Grauniad.

Ancient Wrench
Reply to  Leo Smith
February 25, 2023 8:44 pm

Would this make it an alternative fuel for cement kilns?

February 25, 2023 3:35 am

is say 2.5 of 10 lifetime known risk is too high, just hitemp incinerate the crap for power gen. I gather that drops the airborne to a hell of a lot lower. we would only need to recycle IF we canned proper oils(which FJB is trying)

Tom Halla
February 25, 2023 6:36 am

The minor little problem is that both the Grauniad and ProPublica have the track record of George Santos or Joe Biden. They may by accident be accurate.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Tom Halla
February 25, 2023 6:47 am

Hmmm, Biden accurate, even by accident? Highly speculative, Thomas!

Reply to  Tom Halla
February 25, 2023 3:11 pm

Santos is an Australian hydrocarbon company.
George Soros is a rich individual. Geoff S

Tom Halla
Reply to  sherro01
February 25, 2023 3:20 pm

George Santos is also a new US congressman who made up most of his personal history, a major failure of oppo research

Walter Sobchak
February 25, 2023 8:09 am

Consider the source. If the Guardian says it, you can be almost sure that it is pure left wing propaganda devoid of fact or logic.

Scarecrow Repair
February 25, 2023 8:27 am

“it also signed off on fuels made from plastics even though they are petroleum-based and contribute to the release of planet-warming greenhouse gases.”

No they don’t jackass, that comes from burning the fuel, not from drilling for it, and that’s already been done if it’s already in the form of plastic.

February 25, 2023 8:44 am

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics

I’ve seen enough hyperbolic studies of so-called “risk” from various chemicals and low level radiation promoted by chuckleheaded journalists activists that my BS sensor was reflexively triggered. There are certainly well-documented ill effects of exposure to many chemicals and radiation based on experiments, but the risk derived from epidemiological (statistical population) studies are always suspect. Glyphosate (Roundup), DDT, PFAS (“nonstick” coatings like Teflon), and BPA plastic come to mind.

The Real Engineer
Reply to  stinkerp
February 25, 2023 9:03 am

The problem with all this is the lack of specifics. The exact process used to either burn (already common in incinerator plants) or to de-polymerise the plastics (probably temperature and catalyst) is critical to the waste products generated and how they are removed. No one (not even Chevron) is going to emit large quantities of carcinogens, and if they try will undoubtedly find themselves in court with the EPA or whatever very quickly. This is a useless “risk” article so common in the Guardian.
David CEng

Dr. Bob
February 25, 2023 10:05 am

In all the years of EPA modeling, they make the fundamental flaw of assuming a linear response of component in toxicity when there is no evidence of toxicity at the levels emitted. Essentially all exposure data is at high enough concentration to elicit a biological response and then the data is extrapolated to zero exposure. Not science in any sense of the word.

They use this method to claim deaths by exposure when no such deaths have been observed. But this is what regulators do, cause more issues to grow their support base.

February 25, 2023 10:41 am

NOT burning plastic will result in saving lots of imaginary lives.


Reply to  DMacKenzie
February 25, 2023 11:41 am

Excellent. There’s a very good way to dispose of plastics – chuck them in the sea, (That should make some green heads explode!) But if you do, they will degrade by sunlight until the particles are small enough to be eaten by bacteria,

February 25, 2023 1:00 pm

Manufacturing plastics from oil, then using plastics for packaging and then burning waste plastics for fuel is very likely the most energy efficient cycle possible.

When you consider the complicated and energy expensive processes of making paper and cardboard, and the futile, laborious and expensive processes ( and charades) of recycling.

February 25, 2023 1:11 pm

Perhaps the Swedes have it sorted.

Sweden waste to power.

“… Only 1% of Sweden’s trash is sent to landfills. By burning trash, another 52% is converted into energy and the remaining 47% gets recycled. The amount of energy generated from waste alone provides heating to one million homes and electricity to 250,000. Meanwhile, the UK recycles just 44% of its waste.

Sweden is not only saving money by replacing fossil fuel with waste to produce energy; it is generating 100 million USD annually by importing trash and recycling the waste produced by other countries. The United Kingdom, Norway, Ireland and Italy are willing to pay 43 USD for every tonne of waste that Sweden imports to this end.…”

Big M
Reply to  markx
February 25, 2023 6:24 pm

Thanks, I was about to post something similar. I guess it’s green friendly when the Swedes do it!

February 26, 2023 7:55 am

Incinerating plastic waste to create electricity is the way to go. Don’t bother recycling, use it as an energy source.

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