NASA falsely claims that particulate matter kills up to 1,000 people per square kilometer globally

Particulate matter doesn’t kill anyone. Think differently? Then show us a body.

Click for NASA’s “The Global Toll of Fine Particulate Matter.”

EPA invented the notion that fine particulate matter kills. Here’s a taste of what debunks the EPA.

9 responses to “NASA falsely claims that particulate matter kills up to 1,000 people per square kilometer globally”

1. Shaved_Ape

The NASA claim would seem an impossible one to prove. I wonder if their claim of small particulate induced death includes smoking? At the population densities involved, the 1,000 per year claim might be believable then.

2. Allen Brooks

A square kilometer is roughly one half a square mile. This would exceed the population of most of our countries.

• GH05T

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_and_dependent_territories_by_population_density

Let’s have fun with math. There are twelve countries or “dependent territories” with more than 1000/km2. The world (land only minus antarctica) is 53/km2.

But lets be fair. The real quote is “Fine particulate matter takes an especially large toll in eastern China, northern India, and Europe—all areas where urbanization has added considerable quantities of PM2.5 to the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution. In these heavily populated and polluted areas (shaded dark brown), air pollution created by humans causes more than 1,000 premature deaths per year per square kilometer.”

So urbanized China. How about Hong Kong? The weigh in at 6516/km2. So according to NASA a little more than 15% of Hong Kongs population is dieing of PM2.5 every year. Hong Kong’s crude mortality rate is actually 6/1000/annum or 0.06%. Thusly NASA’s estimate is 25 times higher than deaths by all causes. I have to say, my childhood admiration for NASA is shattered.

• GH05T

sorry o.6% not 0.06% My brain has a floating point error

3. Shaved_Ape

So, what NASA has asserted is not just unlikely and unprovable, it is impossible as well. Besides, it seems to me that if there was a death rate that high anywhere in the world (not a war zone) it would be the subject of considerable scrutiny. It would be considered a pandemic level mortality rate, right?

• GH05T

The most densely populated city is Mumbai with a density of 29650/km2. So the 1000/km2 would only be about 3.4%. The crude mortality rate there is just under 0.7%. So the estimate is only about 5 times higher than the all causes death rate. Bear in mind that almost 50% of the population lives in slums so there may be health concerns more pressing than air polution you need a microscope to see.
In 2012 the country with the highest mortality rate was South Africa with 17.23/1000. The article is claiming a mortality rate of 33.7/1000 in Mumbai and the rate goes up as population density goes down. So yeah, your comparison to a war zone isn’t far off. The tragedy is how quickly I was able to gather these numbers and prove to myself the claim is outrageous. Deaths per km2 is a weird metric to use anyway. I suspect they came up with it specifically to prevent direct comparison to the numbers normally used. Once you’ve converted it to a standard mortality rate (the metric used by pretty much everyone else discussing population health) It’s easy to see how extreme the claim is. I can’t believe NASA’s staff isn’t smart enough to do their due diligence on this so the only assumption I’m left with is that they just don’t care if their good name is associated spurious claims made for political reasons. And to think I used to dream of working there.

4. That’s one heck of a pile of bodies. Where are they?

5. The press release is out and being circulated. Unfortunately, that’s all that will be remembered and used. Logic and facts won’t be heard or remembered. Most folks aren’t able to do the arithmetic and check. After all, these are SCIENTISTS making the claim.
Why the sudden push for PM2.5 releases? Coordinated PR campaign for EPA’s new coal plant rules?

6. MT Geoff

Let’s be a little fair, which is all this report deserves.
The math is absurd, claiming 1000 premature deaths per square click when most of the planet hasn’t got that density to start with. Even Gho5t’s floating point leaves the math obviously wrong (will any journalists do that math?).
That said, soot and particulate matter are not going to be good for anyone’s health. The tiny size of the matter could actually make it more dangerous. If I remember what I’ve read, many people have developed serious lung trouble from silicosis precisely because the particles are so small. That’s a different matter than normal exposure to PM2.5, especially the claim that short-term exposure will produce acute health issues or even death when there’s no evidence to support it.
Soot and other real pollution should be controlled as a society becomes wealthy enough to do so without keeping its people in poverty or pushing them into poverty. That’s the kind of thing that governments should handle so that representatives of the community, the legislators, can calmly consider costs and benefits of pollution control and economic activity.
Of course that assumes voters are choosing legislators who will calmly consider issues and that’s becoming a sore point…