Taking shortcuts won’t protect our families from air pollution

We know that air pollution is bad for our families. Science makes that abundantly clear. Studies, for example, show that mercury can damage the nervous system of children and fetuses, while ground-level ozone, or smog, can trigger asthma attacks.

Even pollution levels below those generally considered safe increase the risk for premature death, according to a study of more than 60 million Medicare recipients published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2017.

Remarkably, when faced with evidence that pollution kills, the Trump administration has attacked science rather than do the necessary work to protect public health and save lives. This excising of science deeply concerns me, as a mother and scientist.

Trump’s EPA has done it under the guise of “streamlining the system” – an overhaul that diminishes the role of academic, peer-reviewed science in policymaking. The changes adopted by this administration include significantly altering or disbanding scientific panels and limiting the types of research that the agency can take into account when developing new safeguards.

Is that streamlining the system? No. It sounds to me like taking shortcuts to undermine a process rooted in science and clearly stated in the Clean Air Act of 1970. The apparent goal is to complete reviews of ozone and particulate matter that diminish the characterization of the pollutants as harmful before Trump’s term ends in 2021.

What’s more, Trump’s EPA – first under Scott Pruitt, who resigned presumably because of the overwhelming outcry resulting from a series of ethical lapses, and now under Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist – has asked members of the recently revamped Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, or CASAC, to consider the economic consequences of tighter limits on air pollution. One problem with this is that CASAC members are not economists – a distinction that the administration does not seem to appreciate.

Making matters worse, it is not clear that some of CASAC’s new members understand the science. Their opinions about air pollution’s impact on human health reside on the fringes of the scientific literature and crumble under scrutiny.

Among the new appointees is Sabine Lange, a toxicologist for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ. In 2015, she presented an oversimplified analysis of the science and economics of the federal ozone standard. She focused on smog’s effect on healthy people and effectively ignored the most vulnerable populations, like seniors, children, and people with asthma.

Lange also co-authored a recent study claiming that the estimated net benefits of cutting the ozone standard from its current 70 parts per billion to 65 ppb are far less than EPA’s previous forecast. The analysis nitpicks individual studies rather than addresses conclusions from the full body of literature. The American Petroleum Institute also has used her analysis as a reason for weakening the standard.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration does not seem to care about protecting the health of our families. It has not taken one meaningful step to reduce air pollution, which is responsible for one in nine deaths worldwide. In fact, it has done more to exacerbate the problem through its recent actions. Here are some examples:

Despite the Trump administration’s actions, I remain hopeful. The World Health Organization recently hosted its first international summit on air pollution, and cities everywhere are taking aggressive action to address this stubborn problem.

Houston, for example, is using municipal vehicles in partnership with the telematics company Geotab, TDE Technologies, and EDF to test a cost-effective, scalable model for mapping air pollution at a hyperlocal level. In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan launched a new street-by-street monitoring system to improve air quality.

It is through these innovative approaches that we will be able to breathe easier. It certainly will not because of Trump’s anti-science administration.

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One Comment

  1. Posted November 20, 2018 at 12:52 PM | Permalink

    Nothing can protect our families or people from air pollution. The only way is that we pay attention to the problem now and finally take some actios. People need to change in the sake of our future.