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On the Edge: The Aroma of TacomaThe Asarco smelter in Tacoma, Washington, was famous in the 1980s for helping to create the ripe aroma of Tacoma. The smelter processed copper from ore with arsenic, and some arsenic was vented into the citys air through the smokestack. Arsenic, said the Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA), is a carcinogenic with possibly no safe threshold: Even a tiny amount might cause cancer in some people. The EPA announced the plant was venting 115 tons of arsenic into the air annually, adding that this amount might produce up to four lung cancers a year. New regulations required the company to spend $ 4.5 million to reduce emissions of arsenic to a level that might produce one lung cancer per year. Asarco agreed to spend the $ 4.5 million. The EPA also announced it could make Asarco reduce its arsenic emissions to zero although this would cost Asarco so much money the smelter would no longer be economically viable. Since about 570 families depended on the smelter, which pumped over $ 20 million per year into the local economy, closing the smelter would hurt many Tacoma residents. Nevertheless, the EPA said, if Tacoma residents wanted to make the smelter eliminate all arsenic emissions, the EPA would require it to do so and the smelter would close down. The residents had a choice: they could have a possible additional lung cancer per year or they could lose $ 20 million a year plus the livelihoods of 570 families. The economy was facing a recession, so unemployment was high and Tacoma had few other jobs. Bill Powers, a smelter worker was skeptical of the EPAs estimates: I think its a lot of baloney! The EPA admitted that some uncertainties surrounded their estimates. Doctor Sam Milham, head of the epidemiology section of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services said his own studies showed no increase in lung cancer rates among people living downwind from the smelter.
1. If the Tacoma community chooses to keep the smelter open, should the EPA go along? What if the community chooses to close the smelter? Are their choices free?
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