China’s bad air puts the lie to EPA scare tactics

By Steve Milloy
January 22, 2013, Washington Times

China’s notoriously bad air has recently been especially hard to breathe. It also shows that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) science is especially hard to believe.

A January temperature inversion over China has caused the air to stagnate and emissions of air pollutants to concentrate, especially over urban areas like Beijing. The air is so bad that it has forced the Chinese government to allow its media to agitate for pollution controls.

The air pollutant receiving the most media attention is fine particulate matter — soot and dust, or “PM2.5” in EPA-speak.

U.S. communities are out of daily compliance with EPA regulatory standards if local PM2.5 levels exceed 35 millionths of a gram (micrograms) per cubic meter of air in a 24-hour period. Communities are out of annual compliance with EPA standards if their average daily PM2.5 level exceeds 12 micrograms per cubic meter. This latter standard was just tightened from 15 micrograms per cubic meter in December.

As a practical matter, the average level of PM2.5 in U.S. air is about 10 micrograms per cubic meter, and the EPA standards are hardly ever exceeded in the vast majority of the country. Nonetheless, the agency’s justification for such strict standards is its assertion that PM2.5 kills people — a lot of them.

Outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson testified about PM2.5 before Congress in September 2011: “Particulate matter causes premature death. It doesn’t make you sick. It is directly causal to you dying sooner than you should.” Mrs. Jackson also testified that PM2.5 kills about 570,000 Americans annually, about 25 percent of all U.S. deaths.

In scientific documents, the EPA has repeatedly concluded that any exposure to PM2.5 can kill, and it can kill people within hours or days of inhalation. The EPA has estimated that every 10 microgram-per-cubic-meter increase in PM2.5 increases daily death rates by about 1 percent. That rate is asserted to be higher for vulnerable subpopulations like the elderly or sick.

What should all this mean for China?

On the worst day so far of the ongoing Chinese air pollution event, Beijing’s PM2.5 levels peaked at 886 micrograms per cubic meter — an incredible 89 times greater than the U.S. daily average. Based on EPA risk estimates, we should expect the daily death toll in Beijing to have skyrocketed by 89 percent on a same-day and next-day basis. Remember that PM2.5 essentially causes “sudden death,” according to the EPA.

Beijing has a population of about 19.6 million and an annual death rate of a little more than 500 per 100,000. This means that about 100,000 people die annually in Beijing, or about 274 per day.

According to EPA risk estimates, the day the PM2.5 level spiked to 886 micrograms per cubic meter, the daily death toll should have increased to about 518 deaths — that is, if what the EPA says about PM2.5 is true.

Thus far, however, there is no evidence from China that the EPA’s claims about PM2.5 are anywhere close to being true.

The Chinese media have reported on four deaths related to the current air pollution crisis. Two Chinese boys were reportedly killed in a train accident caused by visibility problems. Two other people were apparently killed in a car accident, again caused by visibility problems. Yet there are no reports of a spike in deaths caused by breathing the heavily polluted air.

One Beijing hospital reportedly claims to have experienced a 20 percent to 30 percent increase in admission for respiratory ailments — but no deaths have been reported or claimed, and deaths are key to EPA’s PM2.5 regulations. Even the reported respiratory hospitalizations, to the extent any of them can actually be attributed to poor air quality, would more than likely be due to a genuinely toxic air pollutant or mixture other than mere PM2.5.

The EPA justifies its economically burdensome PM2.5 regulations by claiming that reducing PM2.5 levels saves lives and that each life saved is worth $9 million in monetized benefits.

When the EPA issued its anti-coal Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and Mercury Air Transport Standard rules in 2011, for example, the agency claimed that as many as 320,000 lives would be saved annually, returning about $290 billion worth of economic benefits every year.

Given that the coal industry is only worth about $65 billion annually to the economy, shutting it down in exchange for the purported benefits of EPA rules would be an obvious economic no-brainer — that is, if the EPA’s characterization of ambient PM2.5 was even half true.

We have just witnessed a natural and real-life experiment in China of the agency’s PM2.5 hypothesis. So far, it seems, the EPA’s hypothesis is failing miserably.

While it’s possible that the Chinese government is suppressing reports of pollution-related deaths, it’s also true that photos, reports and news stories are nonetheless leaking out — and none support the EPA’s claims. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which monitors Beijing air quality on a real-time basis, has so far offered no information or evidence that anyone has been harmed, much less killed, by such an extreme air pollution incident.

Congress ought to take this opportunity to investigate what’s happening in China while the facts are fresh, and then compare the seemingly benign reality of extreme PM2.5 pollution to the EPA’s costly fantasy.

Steve Milloy publishes and is a senior fellow at the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT).

33 thoughts on “China’s bad air puts the lie to EPA scare tactics”

  1. Hey, David Gregory!
    I googled on the first 2 sentences of that Lisa Jackson quote:
    “Particulate matter causes premature death. It doesn’t make you sick.”

    I got something like 28,000 hits — some of them from reputable news sources. Apparently she really did say that.

    I have childhood memories of 1950s Los Angeles County. On some days, when I walked to school, I experienced pain with every in-breath. The air contained both photochemical smog AND particulates — some of which undoubtedly qualified as PM2.5.

    In those days, people routinely burned trash in backyard incinerators. I know, because we had one, and used it.

    On the worst days, the air pollution made me slightly sick. But to the best of my recollection, it did not kill me.

    Yes, airborne particulates can be an issue. It’s reasonable to discuss this, and even to make regulations. But it’s important to understand that not all public health problems kill people. And pathological dishonesty on the part of goobermint agencies is always inexcusable.

    The ends do NOT justify the means. And there’s a special place in Hell for people like Lisa Jackson.

  2. And there is a point where regulations kill.

    Affordable energy is beneficial to quality and longevity of life.

    The current regs are sufficient.

    Reducing the PM2.5 NAAQS was wholly scientifically unfounded.

  3. Well, you’re getting closer to the truth.

    EPA’s health benefits assertions are based on mitigation of PM2.5 emissions.

    Regulating generic “PM” in MATS rule is a surrogate pollutant for PM2.5.

  4. Let me spell it out for you.

    The proper understanding of the PM2.5 argument has to do with “dose-response”.

    Mr. Milloy gives a good example of this here:

    Do a simple internet search.

    I recommend Google, in case you have not heard of it.

    Mr. Milloy provides all the cites and quotes you are looking for:

    Once again, blown out of the water.

    But don’t let the facts confuse you.

  5. P.S. Lax air quality / workplace safety standards in mining and tunneling operations used to kill workers. Restrictions, however, I’m sure were argued to be ‘job killing’.

    It’s true, that if your workers are dying off at a high rate, there’s a lot of ‘job creation’ going on: every replacement is counted as a ‘new job’. But jobs aren’t alive; people are. To me, it’s more important to save actual lives (people), than jobs (which are fleeting anyway). Yes, some ‘John Henrys’ lost their jobs; but other jobs were created in building and operating machinery. It’s called progress; something that conservatives seem dead set against. Against civil rights; against integrated schools, against womens’ suffrage…I could go on…

    @iheartagw: Steve didn’t blow anything ‘out of the water’. He did, however, blow a whole lot of something up a lot of people’s something else. Everyone’s so used to it – they believe because they _want_ it to be true – they won’t notice their brain isn’t getting enough oxygen until it’s too late…like the frog in the pot of boiling water…

  6. AHA!

    Getting closer to the truth, i.e., proving Steve wrong, and beginning to see something like scholarship.

    First issue: Definitions.

    Steve is using the wrong definition of PM2.5, writing …”fine particulate matter — soot and dust, or “PM2.5″ in EPA-speak.” Actually, PM2.5 includes far more than ‘soot and dust’, and particulate matter is more than PM2.5. In fact, PM2.5 does not include _most_ soot and dust, as these are typically >2.5µm (‘smoke’ from fires is <2.5µm; but that's different that 'soot'). ~12M short tons of dust in 2008; of which ~1M shot tons were <2.5µm. Strike one.

    When Jackson talks about '…reducing particulate matter to healthy levels…', she's talking about "particulate matter", that is _ALL_ particulate matter: Per EPA's definition; that is a whole group of things less than 10 microns. This includes 2.5-to-10 micron particulates like road and industrial dusts, and those <2.5 micron, including gases formed in the air from other aerosolized particles. see ref #1 below.

    She should not be including the effects of ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead, as these are 'other pollutants' (; if the 570,000 annual deaths number includes those, she should have said 'if we can reduce _AIR POLLUTION_'. I don't know, however, if mercury is included in 'particulate matter'; I assume it's under the category of "pollutants that are gases when emitted, but which form particles in the atmosphere." (

    (begin quote)

    "Particulate matter," also known as particle pollution or PM, is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles.

    The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. EPA is concerned about particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller because those are the particles that generally pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects. EPA groups particle pollution into two categories:

    "Inhalable coarse particles," such as those found near roadways and dusty industries, are larger than 2.5 micrometers and smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter.

    "Fine particles," such as those found in smoke and haze, are 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller. These particles can be directly emitted from sources such as forest fires, or they can form when gases emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles react in the air."

    (end quote)

  7. sorry for the type-o; of course ‘sit’ in my par.#7 should have been ‘cite’.

    @iheartagw: you mean ‘eluded’, not ‘alluded’. But no, his point didn’t elude me; I get it that he’s saying EPA is stretching the truth; but he hasn’t proved that they said what he claims; and you haven’t either, which is my point that seems to have eluded you. So, again:

    Where exactly has EPA asserted that “_any_ exposure to PM2.5 can kill”? Citations, not your own assertions. And give us the full quote: exposure at what level, for what amount of time, received by individuals with what prior conditions?

    And where did EPA say that 25% of all US deaths are due to PM2.5? Again, citation.

    While your at it, I’d like you to cite the 10 micro gram = 1% increase in daily death rate source.

    I have quoted for everyone here, and provided a source, for the EPA’s assertion that _ALL_ Clean Air Act related programs since 1990 have reduced, in 2011 (or a one-year period between 09/2010 and 09/2012) premature deaths _equivalent_ to saving 160,000 lives.

    Neither you nor Steve nor anyone I have found have provided a similarly robust citation for your claims; so, until you do, I’ll consider them fabricated.

    And please explain your sentence, ‘Any sensible comprehension of his article’s point is DOSE-RESPONSE.’ It’s grammatically incorrect, and highly incomplete as a coherent thought, but I’m not going to argue with what I am guessing you are trying to say.

  8. Did you really get that from his article???

    Any sensible comprehension of his article’s point is DOSE-RESPONSE.

    EPA has asserted that ANY exposure to PM2.5 can kill.

    It further asserts that 25% of all U.S. deaths are due to PM2.5.

    Even though EPA is unable to name even one of the 570,000 American citizens who supposedly die of PM2.5 poisoning every year.

    Milloy’s very simple point that oviously alluded you is that EPA is ONCE AGAIN stretching the truth, to put it mildly.

    It does this with all its health benefits analyses.

    EPA has zero valid scientific evidence to lower the PM2.5 ambient air quality standard.

    They have their theory. But they fail to check the reality.

    So, EPA makes up greatly inflated health benefit numbers that it thinks no one can refute.

    Or if one does they are akin to baby-killers (even though that is exactly what liberals do, but I digress).

    Well, Mr. Milloy did exactly that.

    At least he blew your acute health effects argument out of the water.

    The only people I know who have died from PM2.5 exposure is cigarette smokers.

    But hey, pot smoke is perfectly safe.

    So, go take another toke and mellow out, man.

  9. Steve – what are you really arguing here? That PM2.5 isn’t a bad? That the EPA shouldn’t work to protect the environment? What should it do, just go away?

    Don’t look now, but your vast knowledge of logical fallacies and rhetorical tricks, and ignorance of basic science is showing….

    In case anyone can’t see clearly the problem in his argument:

    Steve is making a ‘straw man’ argument; constructing a weak version of his opposition to make it easier to tear down.

    He’s basically saying, “If PM2.5 were really a problem that should be regulated, then 518 of people should have died in Beijing _in a single day_. They didn’t, so the EPA are idiots.”

    Steve confuses the difference between acute and chronic effects of pollution; PM2.5 influences both: acute by triggering asthmatic reactions that can lead to sudden death in individuals whose respiratory systems may be weakened by chronic exposure (or simply because born asthmatic); and long term by leading to your ‘dying sooner than you should’, i.e, than you would if exposed to lower levels over your lifetime.

    Steve writes: “Mrs. Jackson also testified..PM2.5 kills about 570,000 Americans annually…” but without quotation marks or a reference. Steve, could you please sit this one, as it seems to be crucial to your argument? The only place I find this quote is in the anti-EPA echo chamber. That number is total cancer deaths, of which PM2.5 is one component; I can’t find any source for Steve attribution to Jackson’s of a statement that reducing PM2.5 would equal finding a cure for cancer.

    She did say, on September 22, 2011, “In the last year alone, programs implemented pursuant to the bipartisan-enacted Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 are estimated to have reduced premature mortality risks equivalent to saving over 160,000 lives…”

    This post from Steve is a classic ‘junk logic’ piece. Don’t be fooled.

    BTW, the reason more Chinese don’t die from PM2.5 could be because they’re dying from cancer and their factories blowing up. They _wish_ they had an EPA, OSHA, etc., to protect them… They also tend to walk more and often eat better (less rich foods; though historically often not enough calories), so have less of the ‘diseases of affluence’ – obesity, heart disease, etc (though that’s changing, unfortunately).

  10. And further to that: ‘ Oxidative damage in AIDS is well documented backing the contention of Duesberg, that the causes of AIDS are to be found in Chemicals rather than in a retrovirus. HIV isn’t present in a large percentage of patients and can only be found by testing for antibodies which, if I remember right from what was taught in school, are a sign that the organism has overcome the virus and is now immune to it’

  11. Westchester Bill: hemophiliacs don’t have a “lifestyle”. They are already walking dead dontcha know. Duesberg was right.

  12. You don’t even need to look at China.
    From the EPA’s own figures :

    PM2.5 kills about 570,000 Americans annually, about 25 percent of all U.S. deaths.
    … every 10 microgram-per-cubic-meter increase in PM2.5 increases daily death rates by about 1 percent.
    … the average level of PM2.5 in U.S. air is about 10 micrograms per cubic meter …

    But the EPA is using the LNT (Linear No Threshold) model – otherwise each 10 microgram increase would not have the same effect.
    Therefore, as the average U.S. level is about 10 micrograms,
    the difference from zero PM2.5 to current levels results in 22,800 deaths.
    So according to the article/EPA 22,800 = 570,000,
    and 1 percent = 25 percent.

    I know there are slight differences in spelling between the USA and the U.K./England, but unless I am missing something, the EPA is also using a different form of (US) math to the (English) maths I learnt (US learned) at school (U.S. High School).
    The initial claim of 570,000 deaths MUST be wrong.

  13. “The U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which monitors Beijing air quality on a real-time basis,…”

    Wait! Why are these workers “forced to work” in such conditions? Clearly the embassy needs to be closed down and the embassy workers brought home and assigned to other jobs. Having actual people over there suffering and dying is neither inherent nor necessary to our foreign relations. After all, we wouldn’t force embassy staff to work in a country where people were SMOKING, would we?

    – MJM

  14. Perhaps the Universities of Rochester and North Carolina could send their PM2.5 researchers to Beijing where they might find millions of live humans testing their death theory on a daily basis. The streets must be littered with the dead and dying – what a great laboratory to test their theory.

  15. What this revelation proves to me is two things; 1) political agenda trumps ALL science, and 2) communist /socialist systems WILL reap the worst environmental pollution on the planet, bar NONE.

    And as a number of commenters have said…… can we reasonably believe ANYTHING that government officials or agencies report to “us”, regardless of their location..

  16. Today they probably couldn’t keep that many additional deaths quiet, but in the past they did. Disasters that killed thousands at a swipe were keep hidden for a decade or more. Most people still don’t know about the Banqiao Dam disaster that killed an estimated 230,000 people in 1975.

  17. Sarcasm is so hard to pull off in this medium. Maybe I should have used more tags, like j/k, etc.

  18. Not even China could keep that number of deaths silent. The death toll would literally be in the millions

  19. The United States conducted a similar experiment in the first half of the 20th century in a place called Pittsburgh, PA. The air got so bad there that sunlight could not penetrate to street level. The people decided not to tolerate the pollution and passed the landmark Alleghany County air quality regulations.

    The U.S. Clean Air Act was modeled on the Alleghany county regulations. But illness and death? Not so much. Either Pittsburghers were inhumanly tolerant to the pollution (according to the EPA standard human tolerance theory) or the air pollution did not kill; not in the short term, or in the long term. Alleghany County’s health records are publicly available. EPA chose to ignore the evidence.

    It’s not about pollution; it’s about control.

  20. The Chinese level was 89 times the US average. Lets assume this was particularly high and the Chinese average is 20 times thec US average. So if air pollution kills “570,000 Americans annually” (presumably EPA testimony on oath) the Chinese death toll, in a country 4 times larger, must be at least 46 millionm (far more if the assumptuion is that damage rises geometrically as would be normal) .

    So no worries about China becoming the next superpower since they will all be dead in 28 years.

    Assuming the EPA isn’t lying on oath.

  21. I am reminded of Dr. Duesberg’s claim that HIV did not cause AIDS, life style did. The data with respect to hemophiliacs were dispositive in disproving Duesberg’s claim. Yet some in the black community held on to Duesberg’s theory, including the president of the Union of South Africa. Efforts to mitigate the rampant spread of HIV in South Africa were hampered by the ignorant government policy.

    The China data is dispositive in refuting Lisa Jackson’s moronic statements.

  22. The Obama EPA, in addition to attacking the coal industry as a source of this particulate matter, also considers diesel fuel as a culprit. In other words, the trucking industry will be the next target for destruction by these anti-American cretins. Remember that Obama’s goal is to destroy the US economy, to put us on a level playing field with,say, Kenya.

    Fortunately, the development of fracking during the last few years has thwarted their efforts of gutting our power generating capacity. Although coal, as planned, declined as a source of fuel for electricity generation; low-cost natural gas, not renewable green energy, has replaced coal as the fuel of choice for utilities. The greens have spent considerable effort and money denigrating the use of fracking, with their only success in convincing the far lefties that we are all going to die from cataclysmic earthquakes.

    No wonder why Sheila Jackson is leaving the EPA in a huff!

  23. Paul,
    It seems that everyone missed your attempt at humor, the tongue-in-cheek style, and your /sarc at the end. For those who are still unaware, /sarc means /sarcasm.
    What the EPA misses is the fact that everyone who has ever eaten carrots is going to die — vis-a-vis carrots cause death. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot /sarc.

  24. I remember during the Olympic in China, when the talking heads from the MSM were on camera you could not see down the street that was behind them. They were very careful to keep the cameras in close and not show a wide shot. Not a word was uttered by the MSM about the bad air in China.

  25. Actually, eating a lot of rice with soy sauce is an antidote! It is only those who eat McDonald’s french fries that suffer from the pollution.

  26. It is the political science that makes them immune to PM 2.5. If we would just surrender then the PM 2.5 issue would go away. Freedom combined with PM2.5 is the problem.

  27. Well the answer is simple Steve. Obviously the people don’t just keel over and die instantly; it takes some time. They will all expire over the next few weeks and years such that no real spike in mortality figures is observable. But the models tell us they will die, so they are just the walking dead at this point. Don’t be such a doubter: the EPA knows all.

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