Air pollution killed more in NYC in 2001 than 9-11?

Harvard epidemiologist Joel Schwartz testified in Congress yesterday that,

… in 2001, more people in New York City died from particulate air pollution than from the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11. And the largest single source of those particles was emissions from coal burning power plants.

Of course you can click here to see the list of 9-11 World Trade Center victims, but there’s no similar compilation for air pollution victims and Schwartz didn’t offer any support for this assertion other than the usual junk science.

Show us the bodies, Joel Schwartz.

29 thoughts on “Air pollution killed more in NYC in 2001 than 9-11?”

  1. jleewest — Thank you for bringing the work of NARSTO to my attention. From what I have read of their reports, I’m not seeing anything suggesting that air pollution is NOT dangerous to human health. Indeed, what I’ve read so far, they seem to be saying there is indeed a link between human health and pollution, but that there are still specific things we don’t know to understand the connection between human health and pollution at an even more granular level. They actually come right out and say that policy makers know enough about the threat of air pollution to human health right now to make policy decisions, but that with more information we can make even better policy decisions in the future.

    I admit I’ve only had time to skim this material. So, if I’m misreading this, please let me know.

  2. Please look at the NARSTO scientific assessment of these problems at http://www.NARSTO.org. They have done several peer reviewed assements of the science with EPA scientist as co-authors. Published by Springer and Cambridge. Keep a open mind. Beware of the various interests. It has been my profession for 30 years and I have read all of the studies. It is not as bad as projected by those whose jobs need to be justified for continued funding. Our air is almost at normal average background levels 90% of the time except in urban areas where cars and heat island effects dominate. Extremes will always happen even if we were not here. The research trails are almost impossible to follow because the authors often reference them selves for decades. Trace it back to the beginning and you will see the technical difficulties that carry through. Reality says that air pollution now is a minor component of our heath issues, it was never major, so if you want to save real lives put the money into education and health reform. WE HAVE SOLVED THE AIR POLLUTION PROBLEM EVEN THOUGH NO ONE WANTS TO ADMIT IT BECAUSE IT MIGHT PUT SEVERAL SPECAIL INTEREST GROUPS OUT OF BUSINESS INCLUDING PUBLIC AND PRIVATE GROUPS. LETS IGNORE THE RICH ENVIRO LAWYERS WHO GET COMPENSATED BY TAX DOLLARS.

  3. jleewest, I don’t know what to tell you. There are so many reports out there I just don’t know how much more I can help. Some indeed do require a subscription or will charge for the full report, but here’s one that doesn’t: http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/161/6/585.full?ijkey=64VD5c2IJHGCz&keytype=ref.

    It’s just one of so many available. All you really have to do is Google “Air Pollution and Mortality science study” and you’ll find more reports than you’ll have time to read. Here is a summary from ALA of some of the most relevant: http://www.4cleanair.org/ScienceSummary-605.pdf.

    The opening paragraph from ALA’s factsheet:

    “More than 2,000 peer-reviewed studies have been published since 1996 when the EPA last reviewed the standards for particle pollution. The new studies validate earlier research showing the strong relationship between particle pollution, illness, hospitalization and premature death. Furthermore, the recent studies show that the health effects of particle pollution may be more far reaching than was previously understood.”

    I appreciate skepticism. I really do. That’s part of the scientific method. Be skeptical. If you have specific problems with these studies, contact the authors and ask them about their methodology. Even better, go out there and do your own analysis, publish your own findings, and really mix it up with the scientists.

  4. Please provide unedited references that can be traced to the authors and are publicically available. I can not fine the reference you quoted from a third party. It also is PM 10 which today is not from coal fired power plants but it has been shown to be worst than PM 2.5 and ozone.

  5. jleewest — Just a couple of points:

    1) The studies are not just of hospital patients, so I’m not sure I follow your “early deaths in hospitals” statement.

    2) Your “small signal of around 0.04% significance on an incremental increase in pollution” claim also doesn’t match the data I’ve seen. Just for an example, the study referenced in this report — http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060523000408.htm — found that:

    “For an increase of 10 micrograms/per cubic meter of PM10 over two years, the risk of dying was increased by:
    — 32% for people with diabetes
    — 28% for people with COPD
    — 27% in people with congestive heart failure
    — 22% for people with inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus”

    These are not small signals.

    Finally, let me make a prediction. When these various new standards go into effect, several things will happen:

    1) The air will get cleaner and people will live longer.
    2) The costs to implement these standards will be a fraction of what the AEP’s of the world are claiming — actual costs have ALWAYS been much, much less than what the polluters warn.
    3) New innovation in pollution control technologies will create new markets and open new businesses and employ way more people than we are able to even dream about today.
    4) Utilities like AEP will remain very profitable and rates will not increase by anything close to what they are warning. Indeed, the rate increases that may be tied to these standards will be lost in the noise of all the other rate increases that utilities push through for any number of other capital upgrades and investments that happen all the time.

  6. Sam – I have read the studies and have worked in the air pollution research feild for 35 years with private industry, NOAA and EPA. I did not say air pollution doesn’t harm people. I am saying that the mortality studies confirm a association with air pollution and early deaths in hospitals. It is a very small signal around 0.04% significance based on a incremental increase in pollution. My basic point is that the current ambient air quality standards are very adequate to protect health and welfare. Joel’s oint about coal fired power plants is flawed and direction controls where the return on health benefits is minor compared to the impact of reducing emmission from urban areas where people live. Inter-urban transport of pollution is far more serious than the current NOx and SO2 emissions from rural power plants. New spending should be directed to education and health if you want to save the most people of all ages.

  7. Phil — Yes, there are costs associated with developing and installing pollution control technologies. But, if there is any exaggeration going on it’s totally from the opposite direction.

    Look at what happened after the passage of the 1970 Clean Air Act. American Electric Power (AEP), one of America’s leading utilities, ran millions of dollars worth of full-page ads in all the major national print media opposing the air pollution standards and warning that they could never afford to reduce pollution. Guess what happened? They not only met the standards of the 1970 law, but have so far met the standards of the 1990 Clean Air Act, even after complaining that they couldn’t meet those 1990 standards, either, and warning of severe economic costs.

    And you want to know something that’s truly rich? Now AEP scores public relations points by bragging about how much pollution they’ve cleaned up, completely dodging the fact that they strenuously opposed all the rules that made them cut their pollution.

    It’s more of the same now. The playbook hasn’t changed one bit over all these years. Utilities complain about the costs of regulation and spend millions of dollars to lobby against them and undermine the credibility of the public health science. But when the new rules go into effect, guess what? The world doesn’t end, markets adjust, innovation thrives, and the utilities continue to make profits hand over fist.

    You want to know how scared AEP really is when it comes to these new standards? In spite of its very public hew and cry, AEP recently told their investors not to worry about it:

    http://www.nationaljournal.com/daily/power-company-contradicts-itself-on-epa-rules-20110615

    I think we can at least agree that the polluters should get their story straight if they are going to engage in this “we can’t afford your scary new pollution standards” routine. It’s getting old.

  8. Hi Steve Milloy — Wow, there you are. So, you flat out deny the validity of all the scientific studies over all these years across hundreds of populated areas around the world by scores of scientists and public health experts that report in no uncertain terms that air pollution does indeed cause early death?

    Come on Steve Milloy, you know full well that a death certificate won’t say patient John Doe died from breathing dirty air. Death certificates also don’t say patient Jane Doe died from eating a cheeseburger. But, we are not questioning the role of fatty foods in leading to heart disease and early death, are we?

    Have you spent any time reading through any of these or other studies? Have you done any actual reporting or research to support any part of your unusual point of view? I’d love to see your evidence.

    (BTW, I have many more links to studies, but your comment system seems to have a link limit).

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8179653
    http://ajrccm.atsjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/173/6/667
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060523000408.htm
    http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info:doi/10.1289/ehp.00108347
    http://www.consenseus.org/downloads/health/OzoneHealthEffects.pdf
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1352231008008558

  9. First, the epidemiologists claim is false. Air pollution ended in the early nineties. There was no air pollution then anymore, and there is none today. Or do we still drive with Pb(C2H5)4 in our gasoline? Unless the air pollution he talks about is not produced by industry or men, but he means natural air pollution, like e.g. polls that cause spring fever.

    Second, let’s compare 9-11 with air pollution. 9-11 was bad for two causes. Secondly, 9-11 killed thousands of people, wounded several and caused financial damage. Firstly, the 9-11 attacks were attacks on the phenomen industrial nation. They forced the FAA to ground all air traffic and skyscrapers were evacuated for a time. The skyscrapers and the air traffic represent the entirety of industry and technology. The attacks aimed at taking two technologies away as first step to take all technologies away. They were an attack on industrialization. Now compare this with air pollution. Is air pollution an attack on industrialization? To the contrary. Claiming industry-causes-air-pollution-and-pollution-is-deleterious is an attack on industrialization.
    Is air pollution at all worthwhile to compare it with 9-11. No. The epidemiologists claims are comparable with 9-11.

    Why is an attack on industrialization bad? Haven’t we all learned that there is a north-south-gap? That there are horrible life-conditions in non-industrial nations? If so, the absence of horrible conditions is undoubtedly caused by industry and technology. The absence of industry kills (actually in Somalia, the news says). Industry doesn’t kill, neither by air pollution nor otherwise.

  10. No one is dying from air pollution. If someone disagrees, show me the death certificate, medical records etc.

  11. Sam, I am not arguing the point. But being an economist, I look at the cost benefit. So to get the benefit of 80 year life spans, we have to put up with some air polution. That air polution is a result of technology that is extending life. But as it is not healthy, it does not allow all to live into their 80s, but instead some die earlier (hence the claim of toxicity). I am not saying go out and polute, I am saying the figures quoted are seriously flawed.

    Take away the air polution and the industry that created it, and people do not live to 80. Fewer would die of air polution, but dead is dead. So what is the NET effect?

  12. Phil — I appreciate your response, which, unlike others in this and other threads, accepts the undeniable — air pollution kills. The context behind all of this is Steve Milloy’s challenge to EPA to show him the bodies. Well, if Steve Milloy cared to, he’d easily see the bodies in the studies that show the clear link between pollution and mortality. But, Steve Milloy is being Steve Milloy and typically ignoring the obvious in order to score a political point against clean air standards.

    The more subtle part of your question did allude me. If I’m understanding you correctly, what you are saying is that there are both many reasons why people die and many reasons why people are living longer today than they did 100 years ago. To reduce more of the reasons people die and thus extend life expectancy even more, you’d have to spend a lot of money as a society and there may be a point of diminishing returns, i.e. the cost to allow a person with respiratory disease to live a little longer (maybe days/weeks/years — I agree this is very difficult to see in the data and I am not aware of studies that explore this specific question) may outweigh the benefits of just letting that person die on a bad ozone day.

    While there are numerous economic studies that show how clean air standards have actually resulted in TREMENDOUS overall economic benefits — from reducing hospitalizations to improving worker productivity to reducing sick days to creating economic incentives to unleash environmental technology innovations (did you know that the environmental technology industry is a $300 billion/year sector?), fundamentally, this comes down to a moral question for many people: Do we invest in tighter pollution standards to save and extend lives?

    Obviously, I think this is a win-win propostion. That you can do both: Save/extend lives and create economic innovation by cleaning up our power plants. I have a lot of studies and data and reports to back me up. You may accept these or not. But, the indisputable fact remains — air pollution kills people.

  13. Sam, you bring fine facts and figures to a rebuttal of the first half of my response. But unfortunately your response suffers from the icing syndrome (what is the icing syndrome? That is stating icing on cake makes you fat – not going beneath to find out why or how it does it). In other words, you have a nice study of coincidence, but not causality. But I am not here to debate what air polution does as that was not the main thrust of my response.

    The part you ignored dealt with how long people live today versus 100 years ago. Now it would be a neat solution if we could just dismiss polution as some evil communist (or in today’s world, vast right wing conspiracy) plot. Unfortunately, that is for scapegoats, not for scientists. The cause of polution is the industry that brings the miracles that have extended life. Life expectancy has risen about 30 years since the 1900s. But that has come at a cost. So, if we eliminate all polution and its unintended benefits, how long would these people live? how long would an asthmatic live without an inhaler? They still do not grow on trees. So while it surely is not HEALTHY to have to breath in the air polution, the fact remains, the studies are flawed by not taking into account that air polution is not an end in itself, but merely a by product of the extension of life itself.

    That is the part you missed.

  14. PhilJourdan — Regarding your comment above asking about subjective versus objective studies. It’s a telling question. Scientists would answer your question “Yes.” The scientific method is a little bit of both. You put forward your hypothesis, data, and conclusions (subjective) and your peers spend the next days/months/years trying to prove you wrong. What doesn’t get shot down is accepted as true (objective), at least until it’s shown to be wrong.

    But on this question, we’re not even really debating science as much as we’re debating data. By overlaying mortality data with air pollution data across many cities and around the world, public health experts have pinpointed a clear statistically relevant connection between air pollution and mortality. If you read this report: http://pubs.healtheffects.org/getfile.php?u=212

    You’ll find this unambiguous conclusion: “The results of both the 20 cities and 90 cities analyses are generally consistent with an average approximate 0.5% increase in overall mortality for every 10 g/m3 increase in PM10 measured the day before death. This effect was slightly greater for deaths due to heart and lung disease than for total deaths.”

    Translation: air pollution kills people.

    To doubt this finding, you not only have to doubt this study, but literally dozens and even hundreds like it from not just here in America but around the world that all say basically the same thing.

    As for your question about pollution levels 100 years ago compared with today and why life expectancy is longer today than 100 years ago — Of course people live longer today. For crying out loud, we didn’t have penicillin until 1928 much less any other modern drugs, vaccinations, other medical care, etc. You can’t be serious in your question.

  15. jleewest — Sorry, but the data do not support your argument. What the data show is that people with asthma or other respiratory illnesses do die from air pollution, both from chronic exposure and from acute exposure.

    By looking at the pollution data and overlaying it with mortality data across hundreds of monitoring locations around the world over many years, there is a clear, statistically certain connection between higher pollution levels and mortality. This isn’t even really science as much as it is simply looking at the data, which stare you in the face and present an overwhelmingly powerful conclusion — air pollution kills.

    With enough data, even relatively small variations — like thousands of deaths per year across a country with 300+ million people — can be proven to be statistically certain. And, when it comes to monitoring air pollution and mortality, there is tons of data.

    It’s okay to be skeptical. That’s what this is all about. Scientists who study this stuff are skeptical people. Science is by its very nature an exercise in skepticism — of trying to shoot down other people’s work, trying to find holes, trying to undermine the hypotheses. Because only when all ideas are considered, tested, and validated can you find the truth in science.

    What you are arguing is that after 40-odd years and hundreds of studies by innumerable scientists and public health experts studying these issues from many countries and cultural backgrounds, that the overwhelming consensus view is flawed. You don’t offer any proof that it’s flawed. You don’t look at the data yourself and show how it’s flawed. You just stand on the sidelines and say, “Yeah, you know, I just don’t buy it.”

    Sure, it’s your right to do so. But, I think you can see why you really shouldn’t govern a country based on the whims of people with no hard evidence or any direct knowledge of the facts. There are people who insist to this day that the Earth is the center of the universe. They have a right to believe whatever they want. But, we would be crazy to listen to them.

  16. Joel Schwartz has built his Harvard carreer on the air pollution issue and receives considerable government funding by using the majic words the EPA wants to hear. There is a correlation between air pollution levels in cities and increased mortality however the signal is very small in all the data noise. What it does show is that the very sick may die a couple of days earlier than otherwise. No one has ever been issued a death certificate that says they died from air pollution. EPA puts a extraordinary value on these “lost” days to support the cost of their regulations. I would contend that ambient summer heat and automobile emmissions creat a much bigger problem to humans than coal fired power plants..

  17. Sam – would these studies be objective or subjective? It seems to me that we can agree that air pollution has increased many fold in the last 100 years. Right? So in that time, given the law of cause and effect, we should see a marked decrease in life expectancy in urban areas where air pollution is a problem right? So then how much has life expectancy decrreased in say Houston over the last 100 years?

  18. JMJRAL — Sure, of course. but you can’t seriously be saying that ozone alert days are just inventions. If so, many local public bus services are losing a lot of money for no good reason when they allow riders to ride for free on these days.

    What an amazing conspiracy world you all are living in. Have you read any of the studies I referenced in my first comment to this post? Or this one: http://pubs.healtheffects.org/getfile.php?u=212? And if you deny these and the thousands of other studies and reports linking air pollution to illness and mortality, do you care to cite any actual science supporting your skepticism?

    Seriously, is there any science you do accept? Do you accept that fatty foods can increase cholesterol? Or that DNA forms the genetic code for all living organisms? Or that creatures called dinosaurs once roamed the earth? The amount of science that supports a link between air pollution and mortality rates is roughly as well established as these other science-based totally uncontroversial facts. Of course, there aren’t many people like Steve Milloy making bank carrying the water for the dinosaur skeptics crowd.

  19. naturalphilosopher, Let me get this straight. You think all these scientific studies over all these years showing a clear link between air pollution and increased mortality are all just baloney? That’s your position? So, when there is an ozone alert day and we are warned that excessive exposure could trigger respiratory attacks, you think that’s just baloney?

    Let me ask, are you a runner? I am. And I can tell you one thing for sure — when I go for a run on a ozone alert day, it’s horrible. I can’t run as far or as fast. I sometimes feel physically sick — headache and stomach ache. I can tell you firsthand that I feel that pollution in my lungs. While it hasn’t killed me (yet), I can feel firsthand how it might kill me if I were older or sicker or in some way more vulnerable to dirty air.

    Your position is that this is all in my imagination? That it’s all baloney? That there is no scientific link between air pollution and mortality?

    Wow, not only are all these scientists and public health experts and local air monitoring agencies in on the conspiracy. It would seem my lungs are in on it too.

  20. Nonsense. Show me the bodies; or show me declining Life Expectancy. You can’t do either one.

    Enviro Psuedo-scientists assert that every change that we have made for the better, over any period of the past arbitrary time, lets say 41 years, since the First Earth Day, were all for naught.

    Baloney!

    The Air Quality in NYC is not perfect (yet), but it is much, much, less polluted than it used to be. That is a pure statistic collected and maintained for the EPA. Life Expectancy continues to climb. Yet nobody lives forever, and everyone dies sooner or increasingly mostly later.

  21. WHat about all the METHANE coming out of those Rat infested SEWERS ? And that Polluted HUDSON river with a Million Dead Bodies in it ?

  22. Steve Milloy — you do know that air pollution mortality rates are based on statistical analysis of the amount of pollution in the air and the number of people who die from respiratory related diseases. While it it unusual to tie any one death to air pollution, if you run statistical analysis you will find a direct correlation between air pollution and the increase rates of mortality.

    I know you’re not really interested in the actual science behind any of this, but all you have to do is use the “Google search engine,” look up “mortality rates from air pollution” and read a handful of the thousands or links and studies that come up. Or, if you’re too lazy for that, here are a few you may want to start with:

    http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/533039
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/21/health/21soot.html
    http://ar.iiarjournals.org/content/29/9/3537.abstract
    http://www.icisnyu.org/south_bronx/AsthmaandAirPollution.html
    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2002/03/20/air.aspx

  23. NYC is POLLUTION……How many cabs 30 K,how many Buses 500? How much pollution coming from those rat infested restaurants and BARS ? How about those 9 Million Flights a day flying over that dump ?
    How about all the GARBAGE it generates per day ?

    Ya SEE Its NOT SMOKERS Causing anything,Its The ANTI SMOKERS doing it all……….SEE YA

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