Enviros ask, JunkScience delivers negative air quality study

We know it’s a futile gesture on our part, but here goes.

Amid a spirited and ongoing online debate sparked by JunkScience.com’s “Show us the bodies, EPA” challenge, the Environmental Defense Fund’s director of online propaganda commented,

I just wish someone on here — anyone — would provide one single link to a peer-reviewed scientific study denying that current air pollution levels contribute to the premature deaths of tens of thousands of Americans per year. Is that really too much to ask?

Well no, it’s not too much to ask.

Check out “Fine Particulate Air Pollution and Total Mortality Among Elderly Californians, 1973–2002” published by UCLA epidemiologist Jim Enstrom in the journal Inhalation Toxicology in 2005. In this study of 49,975 elderly Californian subjects, Enstrom concluded:

These epidemiologic results do not support a current relationship between fine particulate pollution and total mortality in elderly Californians, but they do not rule out a small effect, particularly before 1983.

Now that we’ve satisfied the enviro-comrade’s request, how about showing us a body?

47 thoughts on “Enviros ask, JunkScience delivers negative air quality study”

  1. Okay, now we’re talking. Science. At last. Thank you for finally posting an actual scientific paper.

    It does appear that this study finds no link between PM2.5 and the mortality rate of elderly Californians.

    Now, I will not get into the controversy around James Enstrom. Though, I would like to point out that had the shoe been on the other foot, I can only imagine how easily some of you would dismiss the study’s findings out of hand.

    I will simply deal with this study:

    1) Speaking only for myself, while I am not a scientist and am not in any way qualified to assess methodology, I find this paper persuasive and is definitely worth factoring into this debate.

    2) Enstrom himself does not claim that this study disproves the findings of other studies linking PM2.5 with mortality and acknowledges that other studies using other methodologies have indeed found a link between PM2.5 and mortality.

    3) Obvious point, but this study is limited to PM2.5 and to 11 counties in California. Again, Enstrom would be the first to say that his study does not attempt to challenge other studies on other pollution in other regions of the country.

    4) Last year, the California Air Resources Board produced an analysis of other studies on PM2.5 to demonstrate a connection to up to 9,000 premature deaths in California from exposure to elevated levels of PM2.5: http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/health/pm-mort/pm-report_2010.pdf

    5) In a response to a scientific critique of his study, Enstrom writes: “There is substantial geographic variation in the relationship between PM2.5 and mortality throughout the United States.” And he publishes a map from a 2000 study by Krewski et al. showing a substantial link between PM2.5 and mortality in the Northeast from Chicago over to Maine and down to North Carolina.

    All of that said, I congratulate you for finding one scientific study out of hundreds that does cast some doubt on the link between PM2.5 and mortality in 11 counties in California.

    As for the bodies, look at the abundance of science on air pollution and mortality. The bodies are there. I think even Enstrom would agree.

  2. The last people you should reference is CARB. In my dealings with them, they use only computer modeling. They have never actually measured the results of their regulations in real life. When challenged on that issue, their response “please talk to our legal team.” The last guy I talked to there was an “engineer.” His qualifications for that title was 25 years of driving a truck.

  3. Sam you are unbelievable…You could have very easily found this study on your own if you really cared!!!

    Bud, you need to learn a bit about what an “honest debate” entails!!!

  4. I am taken aback by the absurd request to prove a negative. Really. Please explain how one proves a negative? If I cannot prove your negative question then you are correct? Ludicrous!

    I have a very short story. Back in the 30’s the feds build a dam on the Iowa River in Iowa City, Iowa so the engineering students could study hydro electric power. To keep the students safe from sharks a net was put across the river down stream to stop the sharks from coming to the new dam. No shark has ever been seen in the Iowa River beyond the shark net. Prove me wrong! Thanks

  5. Sam,

    Let’s start at the top:

    “Using U.S. EPA’s methodology, the estimated number of annual PM2.5-related
    premature deaths in California is 9,200 with an uncertainty range of 7,300 –
    11,000. This estimate of premature deaths is based on the latest exposure
    period in the 2009 Krewski study with data from 116 U.S. cities and about
    500,000 people”

    They do NOT verify the methodology. They simply accept that the EPA’s (fully honest and trustworthy right??) methodology is correct because:

    “The U.S. EPA’s reports were peer reviewed in a public process by the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) Particulate Matter Review Panel, an independent peer review body of national scientists.”

    Umm, I don’t know how to tell you this but that isn’t any kind of reputable peer review I would depend on. Kinda like crowd sourcing your engineering or drug studies. I am not going to be buying the products. Now, go back and find the EPA’s reports that hopefully actually did the science. Are you really so ignorant to depend on bureaucratic BS for your backup without making a minimal effort to check up on their process and work???

    Yeah, you simply ignored everything I wrote because you did not want to LEARN about the issues with so-called studies. Especially ones like this.


    TRY AGAIN!!!!!

  6. The net is there just as a precaution. You think there are no sharks in the Iowa River coming to the dam just because one has never been seen. But what if the observations are false? And does that say that there never will be one? Better safe than sorry. Besides, I’m sure they needed to support the poor anti-shark net makers. I’ve found it best that when the regulations and regulatory thought start to seem logical to drink until I get over it.

  7. Well, my models show that the PM10 masked the insidious effects of PM2.5 until we got rid it. Now we need to get rid of PM2.5 so I can roll out the really harmful effects of PM1.0.

    More and more regulation about less and less. How else does a good bureaucrat keep his rice bowl?

  8. I will venture a guess that 90% of our elected officials and 101% of government employees have no idea what you just said.

  9. Dennis, demonstrating a negative effect is actually quite easy epidemiologically. If you can’t measure it, it’s not there or it’s too small to be seen (and thus is unimportant). It’s demonstrating a positive that is the difficult part because you have to eliminate confounding factors, show correlation, have tenability, and then do a controlled experiment that will prove it. Unfortunately, people skip the last two steps too often. For example, actual experiments on ozone effects are very negative. The EPA’s vaunted 2009 test showed a 1% reduction in lung function test at 60 ppb. Not bad until to you realize that the test itself has a 10% error.

    FYI, new people, this is where the “show us the bodies” slogan originated on this site. The EPA said that the fact that there was a reduction on average showed that there were people harmed, but you cannot determine who exactly was harmed and who was not because the error bars are all overlapped.

  10. I imagine that their studies showed that it would improve the economy by requiring the shark nets to be purchased and by hiring the labor to install them.

  11. At great risk to my blood pressure and sanity, I’m going to dip my toe back in here on this. I do so with full knowledge that this is mostly a futile effort, but maybe there are some readers out there who appreciate hearing a fair and balanced debate.

    In my comment above, I gave my thanks for finding an actual scientific study that questions the clear statistical link between air pollution and mortality.I honestly had never seen such a study, though I have looked, so I am sincerely grateful to Steve Milloy for providing the link.

    That said, this one report looking at 11 counties in California does not undermine the credibility of the many other studies that do find a link between PM2.5 and mortality. Even Enstrom does not make that claim. Indeed, Enstrom writes that he is not challenging the other PM2.5 studies, pointing out that there appear to be regional differences in PM2.5 exposure and mortality — in other words, even Enstrom does not deny a link.

    Here are a few of the many PM2.5 studies that do show a link to mortality. I fully realize given how the conversation has unfolded on this site so far, these studies will not in any way change minds and that I am spitting into the wind on this. Nevertheless, for the one or two readers out there with an open mind, these studies at least show what the abundance of the scientific research says about PM2.5:


    “Results: There was a 0.74% (95% confidence interval = 0.41%–1.07%) increase in nonaccidental deaths associated with a 10 μg/m3 increase in 2-day averaged PM2.5 mass concentration. This association was smaller in the west (0.51% [0.10%–0.92%]) than in the east (0.92% [0.23%–1.36%]), and was highest in spring (1.88% [0.23%–1.36%]). It was increased when PM2.5 mass contained a higher proportion of aluminum (interquartile range = 0.58%), arsenic (0.55%), sulfate (0.51%), silicon (0.41%), and nickel (0.37%). The combination of aluminum, sulfate, and nickel also modified the effect. These species proportions explained residual variability between the community-specific PM2.5 mass effect estimates.

    Conclusions: This study shows that certain chemical species modify the association between PM2.5 and mortality and illustrates that mass alone is not a sufficient metric when evaluating health effects of PM exposure.”


    “We examined the association between PM2.5 and both all-cause and specific cause mortality using over 1.3 million deaths in 27 US communities between 1997 and 2002. A two-stage approach was used. First, the association between PM2.5 and mortality in each community was quantified using a case-crossover design. Second, meta-analysis was used to estimate a summary effect over all 27 communities. Effect modification of age and gender was examined using interaction terms in the case-crossover model, while effect modification of community-specific characteristics including geographic location, annual PM2.5 concentration above 15 mg/m3 and central air conditioning prevalence was examined using meta-regression.We observed a 1.21% (95% CI 0.29, 2.14%) increase in all-cause mortality, a 1.78% (95% CI 0.20, 3.36%) increase in respiratory related mortality and a 1.03% (95% CI 0.02, 2.04%) increase in stroke related mortality with a 10 mg/m3 increase in previous day’s PM2.5.”


    “Measurements and Main Results: We found an increase in overall mortality associated with each 10 µg/m3 increase in PM2.5 modeled either as the overall mean (RR=1.16, 95%CI=1.07-1.26) or as exposure in the year of death (RR=1.14, 95%CI=1.06-1.22). PM2.5 exposure was associated with lung cancer (RR=1.27, 95%CI=0.96-1.69) and cardiovascular deaths (RR=1.28, 95%CI=1.13-1.44). Improved overall mortality was associated with decreased mean PM2.5 (10 µg/m3) between periods (RR=0.73, 95% CI=0.57-0.95). Conclusion: Total, cardiovascular, and lung cancer mortality were each positively associated with ambient PM2.5 concentrations. Reduced PM2.5 concentrations were associated with reduced mortality risk.”

  12. Guys: I’m sitting here reading through Sam’s papers and I’m not drawing the same conclusions he is. Where am I going wrong? Am I being more critical in my reading than is Sam?

    For example, I’m reading his first epidemiology paper as saying that despite our assumption going into the project favoring distinct vectors, there isn’t one to be isolated and reported upon.

    In the JESEE paper, I see that they claim to have eliminated samples that disagreed with their assumption, calling them faulty. They report resp, cardio, stroke mortality rates with no evidence directly linking these deaths to anything but graves. With many factors in our lives (migratory patterns, diet, travel, infectious history, etc), the report only looked at PM2.5.

    The AJRCCM paper only had data from 1929 through 1988 (the Epidemiology paper said there wasn’t much data before 1997) and estimated the rest. In other words, we don’t know where the post-1988 data came from, but it smells like my (Cheshire) cat’s litter box.

    So what’s the deal?

  13. Ben Houston,

    If there is an effect, and you cannot show a direct connection to a mechanism, all you have is correlation. As you should know, correlation proves NOTHING. Much of what passes for Science in this age appears to be based on little more than reasonable correlations.

    This is what I am trying to get across to Sam. There must be a reasonable connection to a biological mechanism. Kinda like cancer ate up all the internal organs, or the tumor expanded crushing blood flow or the particulate actually had a chemical reaction with something or they mimicked a protein and blocked the receptors or…

    What is being used more and more for these studies is a simple, we have more pollution. We have more heart attacks, Ergo the heart attacks are caused by the pollution.

    Unfortunately this does not take into consideration that the area is depressed because the wealthier people didn’t like the pollution and left so the poorer people with poorer nutrition and life styles are living there and have higher rates of these diseases. You have to CONTROL for other possible causes when doing these studies. Comparing an expensive rural area with an inner city and saying the death rates are only due to lpollution is ludicrous.

    Unfortunately Sam, either to advance his agenda or due to ignorance, ignores these issues. Another possibility in the ignorance area is that he doesn’t realize that many researchers are out to prove something rather than advance the knowledge.

  14. Pockets64,

    Sam NEEDS to believe that those studies actually PROVE something when they prove only that the researchers are NOT doing science. They do not control for other possible causes and do not offer plausible mechanisms for the negative effects. All they do is throw out marginal statistics. Notice the only thing he felt worth repeating was worthless statements like:

    “There was a 0.74% (95% confidence interval = 0.41%–1.07%) increase in nonaccidental deaths associated with a 10 μg/m3 increase in 2-day averaged PM2.5 mass concentration.”

    This small of a number is totally worthless when considering the small population being measured even without the real problems with these studies. Basically he refuses to allow himself to be educated to where he actually understands what is being said. All he allows himself to see are dead bodies, which incidentally, probably do NOT exist due to the pollution.

    I wonder if he even understands that these numbers are actually talking about a very minor reduction in lifespan, MAYBE??? In other words, if people were exposed to second hand smoke, and they probably were, how could they decide whether it was the second hand smoke or the pollution that took those 10 minutes off of that persons life?? There is no reasonable attribution in any of that junk.

  15. I wonder if some scientist out there is really bored and looking for something fun to do. He could take all these junk science studies, add up all the excess mortality, and PROVE everyone in the US is ALREADY DEAD!!!!

  16. OK, So I wasn’t missing anything. Thanks.

    This sounds like my father’s story. He died of lung cancer back in 1988. Did he die from those cigarettes he smoked since he was a teenager? Did he mess with something horrible in Korea when he was in the Marines? Was there asbestos on the troop transport bringing him home? Was it the formaldehyde in the cadavers when he was learning to be a doctor? Was it the x-rays he took as a doctor? Was it all the other emissions and chemicals he was exposed to as a doctor? Was it the chemical cloud from a truck wreck he rushed through to rescue an old lady trapped in a house? Was it a bad luck of the genetic draw with a fluke mutation?

    No. Let’s blame the Arizona air. After all, he did live there for a few years until his death. Right, Sam?

  17. Pockets64 — I tried to post this earlier but my internet connection seems to have given out just as I hit post. Apologies if this causes two similar comments.

    In other threads, our rhetoric got a little too hot. I regret my role in that and want to say that I very much appreciate your effort to review these studies and understand their methodology and conclusions. I hope we can use this opportunity to have a more open and friendly dialogue about this issue.

    I’ve read those studies, but I’m not entirely sure I understand the specifics of your questions. I’m not seeing what you see here. I’d be happy to look at specific language in the studies you have problems with, if that would be helpful.

    But, perhaps it would be more productive for me to share this 2006 review of 502 papers on various aspects of the connection between exposure to PM2.5 and mortality: http://secure.awma.org/JOURNAL/pdfs/2006/6/2006criticalreview.pdf

    There is no such thing as a definitive report when it comes to this issue. But, that one is probably as close as you’re going to get because it assesses so much of the available science from many years on various aspects of the PM2.5 story. And I think you’ll appreciate it because, while it finds a clear link between PM2.5 and mortality, it is very balanced and explores areas that are still not fully understood.

    Yet it concludes:

    “A comprehensive evaluation of the literature provides compelling evidence that continued reductions in exposure to combustion-related fine particulate air pollution as indicated by PM2.5 will result in improvements in cardiopulmonary health. The recommendations by the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee provide for responsible standards given current
    knowledge. The more stringent WHO guidelines for PM10 and PM2.5 provide reasonable goals for most urban environments.”

    What’s important here as we dive deeper into this issue is that each study, including the Enstrom study, represents a piece of the overall mosaic that scientists use to understand complex problems like the link between certain kinds of air pollution and mortality.

    The problem is that air pollution doesn’t kill you the way a cyanide pill does or the way jumping out of a building does. It’s far more subtle than that. And it’s usually tied to a preexisting illness — like heart or lung disease. It puts these vulnerable people at greater risk of premature death.

    That’s why Steve Milloy’s demand to show him the bodies is so misleading and off point. Just like trying to assess the health threat from eating trans-fatty food, you won’t find it in specific bodies. No one has on their death certificate that they died because they ate too many french fries. Still, we know and generally accept the advice that eating too much trans-fatty food is bad for you because scientists have seen it not in the morgues but in the data.

    And when it comes to air pollution, that’s what nearly all of these studies say. Out of the 2.4 million Americans who die every year, some tens of thousands die, at least in part, because they breathed too much dirty air.

  18. kuhnkat — As posted below, I am going to try to do my part to calm down the rhetoric. I regret my role in allowing these comments to get too personal — with one exception. I regret nothing I’ve written to or about Steve Milloy, who has done as much damage to honest scientific debate in this country as anyone.

    But in the spirit of trying to cool things down a bit, let me say that I appreciate your skepticism and don’t even mind the condescending tone of your comment. I realize I’ve entered the beehive and have brought some of it on myself.

    If you have sincere questions about the science, great, that’s what this is all about. And I love the back and forth. Frankly, I’ve learned some stuff over the last week by having to review the science more carefully.

    Case in point, I appreciate the Enstrom study Steve Milloy posted on here. Contrary to a comment above, I actually did look for a study denying a link between air pollution and mortality and I had not come across one. Now I have, though as I posted above, Enstrom himself doesn’t claim to make any assessment of any of the other studies, the overwhelming abundance of which do show higher mortality rates associated with elevated levels of air pollution.

    Dealing specifically with your question about 0.74%, just a couple of points:

    1) This is not how it works, but for the sake of argument, assuming 0.74% increase in mortality is extrapolated across the entire 2.4 million annual deaths we see in the U.S., that would correspond to nearly 18,000 deaths associated with PM2.5 pollution. That’s more than the number of Americans murdered every year. In other words, 0.74% in and of itself is not an insignificant number.

    2) You ask a very valid question, one I don’t have a great answer to: How many of these deaths were of people who would have died soon anyway? I honestly don’t know if that question has been reviewed in detail and I would personally like to see it addressed. The one point I would make here is that the available science does show that long-term air pollution exposure is also associated with causing chronic heart and lung disease. Very shorthand — it makes you sick and then kills you.

    3) You mention real problems with these studies. But then you kind of leave that hanging. Are there specific points you dispute — other than what you perceive as small numbers, which I’ve partly addressed in point #1? I’d sincerely like to know what specific methodology you find problematic.

    I realize this is a bit off topic, but let me ask you whether you accept the science that shows a link between trans-fatty food and premature deaths? Do you agree with the basic statement that eating more french fries is bad for your heart?

    Assuming the answer is yes, what makes you say so?

    Reason I bring that up is that the general scientific understanding of the role trans fat plays in contributing to premature heart-related deaths is very similar in nature to the way air pollution has been linked to mortality.

    And that may be the entire rub of it. As I commented to Pockets64 below, air pollution doesn’t kill you the way a cyanide pill does or the way jumping out of a building does. It’s far more subtle than that. And it’s usually tied to a preexisting illness — like heart or lung disease. It puts these vulnerable people at greater risk of premature death.

    So there are by nature variables. But that’s why you look at not just one or two or 50 or 100 studies, each of which alone is only one small piece of the larger picture. You review it all and through various reports on various data from various places over various decades, the picture fills in and leads you to a clear link.

    I offer this in my comment below to Pockets64. If you haven’t seen this, it is well worth the read: http://secure.awma.org/JOURNAL/pdfs/2006/6/2006criticalreview.pdf.

    I think you’ll find it very balanced and sober, but also very clear in its conclusion, which I paraphrase — We don’t know everything about PM2.5, but we know enough to say that reducing PM2.5 will extend a lot of lives.

    Anyway, it’s after midnight and I have to get up in the morning. So, I bid you goodnight and we’ll see you in the morning.

  19. Conclusions: This study shows that certain chemical species modify the association between PM2.5 and mortality and illustrates that mass alone is not a sufficient metric when evaluating health effects of PM exposure.”

    This is a very important point. PM 2.5 is only a metric. All of the studies show regional effects to the same concentrations thus it is the chemical makeup of the PM 2.5 that is the cause. Reduceing all PM 2.5 will never produce a measureable result in reduced premature deaths because we may have reduced the wrong conponent of PM 2.5. I also conclude that to be accountable to the public the effects of regulations to reduce PM 2.5, and other pollutants, should require a plan to show they worked.

  20. Sam: My purpose in my previous posting was not so much to plead ignorance, but to point out that the articles you are using either don’t say what you say they do or cook the data or are based on imaginary data. These aren’t scientific studies nor scientific evidence, no matter who the author is or what the authors call them.

    These papers show that people die. They do not examine the individual cases for histories or other contributing factors. They assume (a very large assumption here) that if a person dies of respiratory problems that it’s because of the air. They don’t even allow for the out-of-towner who came in for a business trip and happened to die in that particular city!! It doesn’t allow for the small-towner who went to the big-city hospital to die (as was my mother-in-law’s case).

    So, with the weak foundation of the assumption of where people die affecting what they died of. And then, as I said they build the structure of their point with contrived and cooked data. That house of “evidence” does not support the conclusions they have covering the whole mess.

    I think most people were very happy to be led around by their noses by the global warming and pristine air crowds. And then the techniques of the AGW crowd were exposed. And then there’s the data coming up regarding acid lakes historically being acidified by nature, not recently by people. And now with the pristine air crowds becoming so demanding, can you blame us for asking for solid evidence supporting calls for changes to our lifestyles??

    Certainly Steve Milloy’s “show me the bodies” line was flashy, but it got the attention it needed. But he didn’t draw first blood. He was responding to an outrageous claim regarding how many deaths will be prevented if we change our lifestyles again. “Show me the bodies” is another way of saying “show me the evidence,” which has not been done. Pointing to graves and claiming they would be empty if not for these numbers on those graphs is not evidence. Show us a statistically significant number of CASES where the patients histories were carefully examined, with raw and uncooked data, then we might accept that you have “evidence.”

  21. jleewest: Your posting is right on the nose, but it doesn’t fit in a headline. How could we put that in a headline? I know! I’m brilliant! I don’t know why no one has ever thought of this before: “Show me the bodies”

    Yes, that as a bit juvenile, but it should help connect the dots for our slower readers from the Environmental Defense Fund.

  22. jleewest — Absolutely true that the paper finds different chemicals in PM2.5 contribute to different levels of mortality — as does apparently geography and seasonality. These are areas that will require further study.

    But your statement “Reducing all PM2.5 will never produce a measurable result in reduced premature deaths” is not supported by the evidence, either from that study or from the overwhelming abundance of other PM2.5 studies available in the scientific literature.

    I really encourage you to read this detailed, big-picture assessment of 502 PM2.5 related studies. The studies reviewed mostly date to the 90s and 2000s and deal with a wide variety of issues connected to PM2.5 exposure, from biological to chemical to public health statistics.


    It is a very thorough and balanced review. It generally concludes that there is still a lot we don’t know about PM2.5, but we do know that higher concentrations of PM2.5 in the atmosphere is linked to higher rates of premature deaths and that there is sufficient basis to support reductions in PM2.5 emissions.

    Do we know everything there is to know about PM2.5? No we don’t, and there is a lot more science to do. The picture may not be in clear focus yet, but that’s how science, all science, works. Even the basic idea that the sun will always rise in the east will never be known with absolute certainty. The laws of physics as we know them says that it will, but we don’t know what we don’t know.

    We could never govern the country or our lives if we waited for absolute certainty before making decisions.

    The PM2.5 science shows that exposure to PM2.5 is associated with some thousands of premature deaths in America every year. That simple statement has not one single science-based objection that I’m aware of in the scientific literature. Even Enstrom, the paper Milloy links to above, accepts this general point even while it finds no clear link in its data using its methodology of elderly citizens from 11 California counties.

  23. Pockets64 — How do we know that smoking is linked to lung cancer? How do we know that eating trans-fatty foods is linked to heart disease? How do we know that drinking too much alcohol is linked to liver disease? How do we know that exercise improves your chances of living longer?

    The science supporting these near universally accepted facts is, roughly speaking, the exact same science used to link PM2.5 exposure to premature deaths. You don’t look at individual bodies and say wow, look at that liver, that guy drank like a fish. You look at averages and statistics and you find trends.

    That’s the way almost all public health science works. You look at trends, you look at data, you look at behaviors, you try to isolate or control for variables, you build your knowledge on not one or 10 or 50, but on hundreds of studies with thousands of data points and you make a judgment and you say people who did x or were exposed to y appear to be z% more or less likely to [insert your statement].

    In the case of PM2.5 and other air pollution, the bodies are in the statistics, the blips in mortality after bad pollution days — that is the evidence. And these researchers do try to account for other possible factors like quality of life, rates of obesity, home ownership, etc, etc. That’s what the methodology in these studies is all about.

    Anyway, if you don’t see the bodies in the statistics, fine. That’s your right and I am not going to hold my breath. But, when study after study after study multiplied by 100 all show roughly the same thing, that some tens of thousands of Americans die prematurely every year because the air they sucked into their lungs was polluted, I think we need to follow the science.

  24. You’re back to the original point in the mercury discussion: We know mercury is bad for us, therefor the current clean air standards need to be changed.

    There is no direct linkage between PM2.5 and these people. I do see that rather than addressing my comment that without case-by-case personal history studies, the correlations cannot be shown to be more coincidental than causal.

    Saying people die because of the air sucked into their lungs is an assertion supported only by assumptions based on weakly linked coincidences in a universe full of other coincidences.

    Without the case studies (not statistical analysis studies), there is no evidence. Without the evidence, you do not have a factually supported point. Come up with case studies (actual patient-sourced data), then we can talk. Until then, it’s not a debate but a debacle of blithering.

  25. pockets64 — Your comment hits the exact rub of the matter and illustrates exactly where you and I differ.

    First of all, there are indeed studies that have looked at the “Biological Plausibility” issue — i.e. how individuals respond to PM exposure — and those studies are part of the vast and growing scientific case supporting a link between PM2.5 exposure and mortality.

    I encourage you to read pages 723 – 728 of the Pope and Dockery 2006 paper: http://secure.awma.org/JOURNAL/pdfs/2006/6/2006criticalreview.pdf

    Here is one relevant passage on studies related to the famous Utah Valley incident in central Utah, which saw a large decrease in pediatric hospital admissions associated with the closing of a local steel mill and the resulting large reduction of PM2.5 levels in the air:

    “Almost 10 years after the initial epidemiologic studies, archived air monitoring filters from the valley were recovered, and PM was extracted from samples collected in the years before, during, and after the closure of the steel mill. This extracted PM was found to elicit acute airway injury and inflammation in experimentally exposed rats and humans. Inflammatory lung injury, in vitro oxidative stress, and release of proinflammatory mediators by cultured respiratory epithelial cells were all substantially more elevated when using extracts from filters collected during periods when the steel mill was operating versus when it was not, suggesting differential toxicities of PM not fully explained by differences in mass. These studies generally observed that differences in the content and mixtures of metals seemed to play an important role in the biological effects of PM exposure. They also demonstrated clearly relevant biological effects of controlled PM exposures consistent with specific epidemiological findings contributing to our understanding regarding biological plausibility and mechanisms.”

    Here is another study that may be of interest to you on this point: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240569/.

    And if you go to http://scholar.google.com and look up “physiologic effects of pm2.5” you’ll find similar case studies.

    I reiterate the basic point that if you review the broad scope of scientific research that has studied the health effects of PM2.5 and other air pollution, both from the broader community-impact statistical evidence and the evidence of how PM2.5 impacts lung and cardiovascular functions in specific patients, the picture may not yet be in full focus, but I reiterate that there is nothing in the scientific literature that has shown any real disagreement with the basic statement that current levels of PM2.5 and other air pollution are associated with some tens of thousands of premature deaths every year.

  26. I agree with most of what you say. However you need to realize that most PM 2.5 is not emitted but rather created in the atmosphere. I still think that there needs to be a accountability factor built into the regulations to assure we got the right answer for the right reason. I also do not think it is possible to show that there actually is a reduction in premature deaths from reduced PM 2.5 at current levels. To much noise in the data.

  27. Sam,

    your #1, that is right. That is NOT how it works. You cannot extrapolate over ALL the deaths that occur as many of them will have nothing to do with air quality. Back to what you refuse to acknowledge. This number, if it is meaningful at all, can only be used in relation to the number of deaths due to air pollution or conditions complicated by air pollution. Cardiovascular deaths you will need to bring on some strong proof to get me believing that air population is a significant cause or contributor. Got that Sam. What’s the mechanism Sam!!!!

    As these studies have no attribution sections you simply cannot apply that tiny number to ANY deaths. It is truly meaningless. That is how it works Sam.

    2) see 1).

    3) See 1) No attribution. You just did an armwave in 2) about associations. Again, associations are correlations and prove nothing. Other factors in the environment, diet, lifestyle… are just as likely without controlling for these other issues.

    Sam, I have not seen the studies on trans-fats so cannot answer that. Your statement is poor also. If I eat one bag of fries a year and eat one bag plus one fry the next, no. If I eat one bag a day, and the study shows a biochemical mechanism for damage if I eat that much then yes. If there is no clear mechanism I am going to doubt the study and tell you that the mechanism must be found before disrupting people’s lives. Sometimes that will end in more harm. Sometimes that will end in less harm. In the end, it will promote trust in those doing the research and gain more cooperation in dealing with proven issues.

    Sam, 5 million junk science studies say the same thing and I will still ignore them. The study must be according to the precepts of science and be more than an exercise in showing correlations.

    OK Sam, obviously you are on a crusade and nothing is going to stop you from tilting at those windmills. The piece of garbage you are passing off as a scientific study is purely correlation. There is no scientific investigation into the health of ANY of the persons who died or any of those who did NOT die so ANY conclusions about air pollution is CRIMINAL!!! There are probably 2 or 3 other factors that would closely correlate to these death patterns, but, since they were not controlled for you have no idea if something else has an even better correlation. You have shown no direct involvement of your favored POSSIBLE mechanism in ANY death and CANNOT conclude the correlation has any meaning until you do.

    I would also point out that many doctors and scientists are coming to the conclusion that natural animal fats are actually healthy as is SALT and that NOT having them in the diet, especially if replaced by the standard substitutes is probably worse for you than the real thing. Why did this happen?? because CRUSADERS like YOU insist that CORRELATION PROVES SOMETHING!!!


    When is that work going to get done Sam. People MAY be dying!!! They may NOT. You may be wasting money and other resources on a non-problem like the mythical AIDS epidemic in Africa!!! Like the AIDS epidemic that was going to affect heterosexuals in the US also!!!

    There is way too much junk science Sam and people are dying due to the corruption and wasted funds and effort. Are you willing to accept the blood on your hands from perverting the process so that we cannot reasonably distribute funds and priority???

  28. Sam,

    chemical and biological studies have PROVEN mechanisms for many diseases and conditions. Even you can probably think of remedies in the past that not only didn’t address condition s that were not understood but caused GREATER HARM!!

    Statistics only tell us where to look for the mechanism. Statistics are not always correct even with high correlations. Without the biochemical mechanism you are simply waving your arms.

    Give it up as you are contributing to the future society where people will NOT believe ANYTHING they are told by your witch doctors and FIGHT against improving their lives simply because shysters like you have promoted one CORRELATION scare too many. Goreball Warming will be a big step in that direction as we are now seeing. Same issue, big correlation, made up mechanism, huge costs to we the people for BS.

  29. Where are the studies where mice or monkeys are raised in polluted air and autopsies are done. Where tests are performed to look for the chemicals in the blood stream or organs. Where are the results of the autopsies showing damages.

    You asked about cigarette smoking. I believe that with smoking, asbestos, and coal dust they at least had actual medical data to look at that was just a bit more than a correlation.

    When are you going to stop promoting junk science and get to actual research and forget these crap epidemiological studies. Constructed correctly epidemiological studies have shown a number of pointless correlations.

  30. Kuhnkat — I ask this respectfully, but are you a scientist? Have you ever done scientific research? Reason I ask is that you are demanding a level of certainty that doesn’t often exist in science. How do we know there are black holes? We can’t see them. But, by looking at a bunch of data and making observations and calculations on what the data show, astronomers have developed the theory of black holes.

    Correlations play an incredibly importantly role in science, especially when it comes to public health. Exercise is correlated with good health. Eating too much trans-fatty foods is correlated with heart disease. Drinking too much alcohol is correlated with liver disease.

    Can I or anyone say that drinking 3000 drinks over the course of 20 months will definitely cause liver disease in everyone? No, but that doesn’t mean drinking too much over the course of your life is good for you.

    There is absolutely no question that PM2.5 is correlated with premature death. The question is how much stock to put in the correlations and whether we can reasonably infer a scientific truth from the data.

    That depends entirely on the science and on the methodology. Every scientist I am aware of who has looked at this, including Enstrom, has said that the correlations appear valid. And, contrary to your criticism, this science has controlled for things like obesity, lifestyle, poverty, and other possible variables. Your comment on that score makes me think you have not read the studies.

    We even now have science telling us what chemical composition of PM2.5 is potentially more dangerous than others. We have science showing us exactly what PM2.5 does to the body. We have science showing us that specific kinds of people are more vulnerable to PM2.5.

    I think you really need to read some more of these papers. You seem to be missing the point that for the past 15 years, scientists have been reviewing a lot of the questions you’ve raised and have answered them. Go back to the science. Start here: http://secure.awma.org/JOURNAL/pdfs/2006/6/2006criticalreview.pdf. Or go to Google Scholar and look up PM2.5 and public health. Review the studies and you’ll see that the science has evolved way beyond your questions.

  31. Kuhnkat — You mean studies like these?


    These studies look at the various physiological effects of PM2.5 exposure using different methods and testing different variables. They all support the basic conclusion that PM2.5 exposure is linked with respiratory and cardiovascular damage.

  32. Sam: You are talking about expanding the breadth and scope of governmental bureaucracy power. Tagging along with that power comes decreased personal freedom and increased costs of survival for the rest of us.

    If you are making such demands of us, you had better offer more to us than statistical correlations, statistically sound or not.

    That, I believe, is the crux of this entire discussion.

  33. Sam: Let’s look at this from this angle if you want to better understand the junkscience.com thought process:

    Think about the impact of government environmental intervention. I’m not talking only about the AGW hoax, where false statistics and computer-based day dreams were foisted on the public until the public started to realize they were being BS’d. I think we might be stopping that pig before it does any serious damage. I’m talking more of the ice age scare in the 70s where they were going to coat glaciers with black soot in an attempt to stop global cooling. But I’m not really on that one as nothing was really done. I’m more interested in the Swedish acid rain scare in the 70s and 80s.

    Someone took a reading of the acid levels in the lake, drew a correlation between acid level and power plant output. They failed to examine all of the inputs relevant to acidification of lakes. They dumped tons of lime into the lakes in an attempt to bring the acid down (to no affect). They also pushed for the closing of power plants and a significant change in citizens’ life styles.

    Recently, someone else took a look at lake bottom core samples and discovered that the lake had always been acidic. They realized it was biomass decomp in the lake causing the acidification.

    So the green movement effort to throttle humanity took a major action, pushing a government to take action based on false assumptions and statistical correlations.

    Check out: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110801094718.htm

    We have many more examples of these oops moments from throughout history. (Like the one where we were pushed to give up paper grocery bags in favor of those little plastic ones. Now the plastic ones are being demonized and now we are supposed to use reusable bags. Only now we are finding that bacteria from raw meats purchased are staying in those bags, turning them toxic.) Many are listed here on junkscience.com.

    Now, Sam, don’t go off thinking I’m just some anti-climatic (OK, anti-climate) nut job. I was a big follower of the 70’s ecology movement.

    I started my own carbon offset business at the beginning of the AGW scare (www.savegreenearth.com). But as I was coding my carbon foot print calculator, I realized what true BS all of that was. You see, my calculator was a full feature tool. It looked at the user’s ZIP code to see what power plant was used, it looked at windows in the home, car make, jet ski’s, etc. It started falling apart in mass transit calculations. It came to a screeching halt when I tried to show the users their contribution to global warming. The CO2 percentages WRT GH gases were sooo small. The human contribution of CO2 was such slice of even that. I realized the hype did not match the numbers. I then started looking at all of the other ecological movement tenants with a more critical eye and realized it was all based on BS.

    All of these movements started with the basic argument “X is bad.” It’s hard to argue that X is bad, given that in large enough doses everything is bad. But they go on to anchor off the X is bad thing and ignore the critical “in doses of Y size” part. Like what was done to salt. Animals need sodium. We get it from sodium chloride. Our bodies are made to take it in, process it, and use it. Why do you think the Holy Roman Catholic Church started pushing fish on Fridays? But our ever-so-ingenious modern scientists are not patient enough to test X in dose Y over time, so they test X in dose 3Y and dissect. This gives a skewed result every time.

    So, to wrap up this long-winded diatribe, we are back to: without sound thoroughly researched data complete with specific cases and specific case studies to eliminate other potential factors, all you have is hype.

    Keep in mind the story I told you about my father. Even though he was exposed to the formaldehyde, the x-rays, the tobacco, the chemical spill, and lived 30 years in Illinois, his death falls under the Las Vegas statistics.

  34. pockets64 — I have provided links to studies that show much more than correlations. Studies have found specific biological harm caused by controlled exposure to PM2.5, for example here: http://ajrccm.atsjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/164/4/704

    I get the feeling that folks aren’t actually reading the science on this. The science demonstrates a statistical correlation between higher air pollution and spikes in mortality. But it has gone much farther than that, as demonstrated by the 2006 Pope paper reviewing the breadth and depth of the PM2.5 science — 502 studies from over many years. We now know not only that PM2.5 kills, but we even know what it does to the body, what kinds of chemical properties in PM2.5 are more dangerous, what regions of the country are more at risk, what kinds of preexisting illnesses make you more vulnerable to exposure, etc.

    I’m not sure what you mean by freedom. Right now, polluting industries are releasing these dangerous air emissions that we all are forced to breathe, whether we like it or not. Is polluting our air and making millions of Americans sick infringing on their freedom? How many premature deaths should we allow before we tighten air emissions?

  35. Pockets64 — Thank you for your post. I appreciate the point you’re making and especially appreciate the tone. I completely understand the skepticism you and others bring to the table. Skepticism is essential for good science. In fact without skepticism, you wouldn’t have science.

    There is no doubt that you can point to bad science throughout history. Many, many mistakes have been made by people who thought they knew what they were talking about. But, we should not make the guilt by association mistake of painting all environmental science as bad just because some has been.

    With hundreds of studies that have looked at different aspects of PM2.5 and with the breadth and depth of understanding that has developed over time, it is becoming harder and harder to discount these findings. Is there still a chance that all of this science is wrong? Sure, but the chances are now extremely remote and with each new study they certainty only grows.

    Does that mean we should stop being skeptical? Absolutely not. But it does put a growing burden on the skeptics to show where the science is potentially flawed.

    Anyway, I thank you for the seriousness of your post and your healthy skepticism.

  36. Sam! Dude! Check yourself! Your agenda is showing!

    It took a few days, but in the mercury discussion you came out with the leftist talking point about utility companies paying for skewed studies in their favor. Now you’ve done the same thing here.

    Not only are you pushing the talking points, you are now engaging in straw man debating again. No one is pushing for no standards. We are saying that the current standards are more than satisfactory. Pushing the standards tighter would sacrifice freedom and possibly lives.

    I see you don’t fear the loss of freedom. I won’t hazard a guess why. But I have been around the globe twice, visiting many countries in my efforts to help spread peace. I have seen what life is like when varying degrees of freedom are taken away. Trust me, you do not want to live like that.

    Your point about “sure there have been mistakes through history in science” is a little amusing. You talk as though we are talking about the science describing the sun’s orbit around the earth. But we aren’t. We are talking about this year, last year, the year before that. So when we put that chuckle beside your line about how with all of these foibles it becomes beholden upon skeptics to disprove the latest craze, I find myself rolling on the floor with my pit bull looking at me like I’m insane!!

    So, please don’t take this the wrong way as I mean this with all due respect: I’m starting to suspect that you might be an idiot. Again, no offense intended :).

  37. You are getting back to demonstrating that any substance is toxic, given the proper dosage. Look at how they conducted the experiment.

    Additionally, the ground rules have been laid on how to demonstrate that our life styles should be further impeded by additional governmental regulations. You still have not followed those ground rules.

    We’ve laid the rules out a number of times. I’m not going to rehash.

    It’s been fun trading points and barbs with you, but I would like for you to focus on the line of discussion we will accept.

  38. Junk Science is usually followed by emotional thinking. The first example I can think of is DDT. Millions of people have died because of the emotional thinking surrounding that Chemical. Now it seems that any chemical is bad.
    BPA is another one. The real problem is regulations have very little benefit and a large down side. How about the new MPG regulations it will kill many more people because the cars will be smaller and have less safety built in just to make the rule. Clean air is a joke. Just like humans cause the earth’s temp to rise. The EPA is now trying to regulate Dust. The power plant mercury emissions are 0.2% of world wide mercury emissions. Who can I blame for my Bladder Cancer, smoking 30 years ago, the water I drink. Who will pay, that is the problem. Just accept that stuff happens. Can I blame the mercury I played with as a child more that 50 years. How about the lead in electronics. The only real damage has been junk science by government agency’s leveling regulations with no real need.

  39. I think your comments are to well reasoned to be accepted by the 49% of people who do pay income tax. Thank you.

  40. Sam,

    are YOU a scientist. Have YOU ever done research work?? Becuase if you are, don’t tell me where you work. I will write you superiors and castigate them for promoting the idea that Correlation means anything other than DIG HERE!!!

    You are persistently pushing this BS that statistics without a mechanism PROVE something just like AGW BS.

    If it makes you feel better I am an unemployed nobody with no formal scientific training. That still does not make CORRELATION useful for more than an indicator as to WHERE the reseach should be done to find out what MAY be happening.


    I would suggest you not continue that line of thought as you are approaching ad hom and argument from authority. Of course, since your EPIDEMIOLOGICAL STUDIES are apparently on ONLY statistics and do NOT have any real research into the possible biological mechanisms, I guess that is all you are left with, insults and demands that we trust you just because!!!

    Who really has the blood on their hands Sma!!

  41. Sam,

    you continue to repeat your lies.

    “Absolutely true that the paper finds different chemicals in PM2.5 contribute to different levels of mortality — as does apparently geography and seasonality. ”

    What it finds are CORRELATIONS with no biological mechanisms. If you widened the factors included you might find other CORRELATIONS at even higher levels. It is the weakness of statistical evaluation. One gentleman has shown the spending for the US matches the increase in temperature almost exactly. Does this prove anything?? NO. It SUGGESTS that our temperature record may be contaminated by waste heat from a more energy intensive society, but, proves no more thatn the correlation between CO2 and temperature.

    You still haven’t got it through your head that even a perfect correlation does not PROVE anything and acting as if it did will actually prevent you from confirming the issue and finding the mechanism that will actually move the science forward. Correlation is a lazy persons way to NOT do the necessary difficult and expensive research that might have useful results. How lazy are you Sam???

  42. Sam,

    from the first link:

    ” In this study, spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHRs) with surgically implanted blood pressure transmitters were exposed to concentrated ambient PM (CAPS) for 4 h to determine whether CAPS inhalation causes immediate effects. ”

    You do understand the word CONCENTRATED?? This is the same BS by which people like you have demonized PCBs, DDT, and a number of other chemicals and compounds. Load up an organism with far more of something than it could ever receive in actual life conditions and declare that all levels are unsafe when a response is found. Slap a TREND line through insufficient data and compute how many people MIGHT die at a low level of exposure whether there is any PROOF that lower levels actually cause a problem or not.

    Sam, I just decided you really are lying or completely propagandized. With the above process and lack of logic and in depth research the EPA and other governments around the world have tightened pollution standards on numerous items called pollutants. One of those pollutants which we fear the most is radiation. The safe radiation levels have been dropped very low over the years based on this same logic that the harm is a linear function and it is appropriate to extend it down past the area where clear results have been experimentally or obsevationally proven.Take a look at THIS study:


    According to linear extension of risk past the PROVEN areas the people in these apartments should have had a cancer bubble of historic proportions and numerous other conditions and diseases based on their high exposure levels. The actual findings, as you can easily read, is that the people were HEALTHIER than others NOT exposed!!! It is called Radiation Hormesis and applies to many areas of biological function.

    In physical sciences we see a similar problem. A very fast moving stream of water carrying abrasive material can erode granite. By extending the linear function describing this we can compute get an age for the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately later research shows a THRESHOLD where there is NO erosion so the function breaks down. Based on this more realistic research we find we can’t explain the Grand Canyon without enormous lakes of melt water on top of glaciers being released and carrying larges amounts of grit. This explanation still has problems.

    Read the paper, research Hormesis in general, and then MAYBE you can reconsider this STUPIDITY of extending harm on a linear basis with no PROOF of that harm other than CORRELATION without controlling for other possibilities. In nature there are few functions that are linear for their whole application. We call what you are promoting JUNK SCIENCE for a reason Sam.

    Again, who has the blood on their hands Sam!!!!! We could have been building Nuclear reactors bringing life improving energy to the world for 40 years if not for this unsupported alarmism!!! We could have been using DDT to protect people in their homes for decades instead of allowing children to die. We could have been using those billions of dollars wasted on a disease which we know the primary transmission path and could stop, AIDS, to improve the health of millions in Africa. Yet, you WILL depend on this sloppy correlation BS.

    Remember what started this?? Steve claimed that the CURRENT levels of particulates are not proven to cause the levels of harm you claim. You STILL have not offered any PROOF that these lower levels cause ANY harm. You STILL have not offered any autopsies to show the biological response to these lower levels of “pollution” match the responses found in your CONCENTRATED tests!! And of course they WON’T because the actual response WILL be much smaller if any!!

    Finally, notice that even your studies show higher rates of death for those with cardiovascular disease and other serious conditions. Wouldn’t it behoove you to put the money and effort into dealing with those PROVEN fatal conditions rather than spending billions on stopping something that will increase death rates by tiny amounts, MAYBE?? How many of those people would have died shortly anyway Sam?? Didn’t the research look into this and quantify it?? Junk Science Sam.

    Try approaching the REAL problems Sam, and forget this tilting at windmills!!!

  43. I assume you live in a soundproof room or house and face a concrete block wall when yelling your repudiation to the x%2#(* kind of self serving money grubbing people who would like to become rich by getting government money. We will listen, but then “we” already agree with you.

    We can change things however. If enough of us vote for small government politicians then our side will win. It started November 2, 2010 when a large tsunami rolled across our country. We can cause a revolution tsunami to roll over our country come November 2, 2012. Reduce federal, state and local spending by 20% in one year? Impossible? No, but all of us would have to buck up and accept responsibility for most of what we do. Are you ready?

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