Claim: Obama’s trip to India will shorten his life by 6 hours

President Obama is spending three days in India this week. A UK statistician has estimated that India’s polluted air will shorten Obama life by six hours. Is this true? Nope. It’s just another example of how stupid EPA air pollution science is.

As reported by Bloomberg News:

India as a whole is home to 11 of the top 20 cities on the planet with the worst air quality, according to data from the WHO, which collected pollution levels from 1,600 metropolitan areas between 2008 to 2013. The worst U.S. city was Fresno, California, which came 162nd on the list.

During Obama’s three-day visit, PM2.5 levels in Delhi have averaged between 76 to 84 micrograms per cubic meter, according to data collected by India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences. The U.S. leader departed on Tuesday for Saudi Arabia.

Those levels translate roughly into an estimated loss of 2 hours a day in life expectancy, said David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge, who specializes in quantifying risk in a way that is understandable to the public.

“That’s roughly 8 cigarettes a day,” Spiegelhalter said in an e-mailed response to questions. “I think Delhi is a wonderful city, but this pollution is harming its residents.”

So the air pollutant of concern is PM2.5, soot or dust that is about one-twentieth the diameter of a human hair. Spiegelhalter’s estimate of PM2.5’s effect on Obama’s lifespan is based on the EPA determination that any exposure to PM2.5 can kill people within hours of inhalation. I have previously debunked EPA’s claims here and will now finish off Spiegelhalter’s claim.

Assuming Obama inhaled outdoor Delhi air 24 hours a day, he would inhale about 5,760 micrograms (millionths of a gram) of PM2.5 over the course of three days. Spiegelhalter is wrong in equating this to smoking 24 cigarettes.

A single cigarette delivers anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 micrograms of PM2.5 to a smoker. Clearly the worst-case scenario of Obama inhaling 5,760 micrograms from Delhi air is a lot less than the low-end estimate of 240,000 micrograms from the 24 cigarettes of Spiegelhalter’s fantasy.

But it gets worse for Spiegelhalter’s claim.

Obama admits to smoking about five cigarettes a day for about 25 years. That works out to a PM2.5 exposure for Obama ranging from about 456 million to 1.8 billion micrograms of PM2.5. But a study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that smokers who inhaled as much as 2.19 billion micrograms of PM2.5 had about the same life expectancy as non-smokers.

How can you visualize these amounts of PM2.5? Via his smoking habit, Obama has already inhaled almost a 4-pound bag of sugar’s worth of PM2.5. A non-smoker, on the other hand, inhales typically only about two sugar packets worth of PM2.5 over the course of an entire lifetime. Yet Obama’s life expectancy is the same as that of a non-smoker.

And that brings us back to the EPA’s silly idea that PM2.5 kills people. A smoker who inhales 4 pounds of PM2.5 will have the same life expectancy of a non-smoker who inhales a mere two sugar packets worth over the course of a lifetime. Breathing Delhi air for a lifetime only results in the inhalation of about 2 ounces of PM2.5 – more than two sugar packets but a lot less than a 4-pound bag of PM2.5.

The reality is that PM2.5 in outdoor kills no one. EPA willfully ignores this reality and people like Spiegelhalter parrot EPA’s lie. Delhi air will not shorten Obama’s life by a microsecond.

4 thoughts on “Claim: Obama’s trip to India will shorten his life by 6 hours”

  1. Well, you didn’t “debunk” the claims of the adverse health effects of PM. According to “Health Effects of Fine Particulate Air Pollution: Lines that Connect”:

    “Despite important gaps in scientific knowledge and continued reasons for some skepticism, a comprehensive evaluation of the research findings provides persuasive evidence that exposure to fine particulate air pollution has adverse effects on cardiopulmonary health”

    According to “Lung Cancer, Cardiopulmonary Mortality, and Long-term Exposure to Fine Particulate Air Pollution”:

    “Fine particulate and sulfur oxide–related pollution were associated with all-cause, lung cancer, and cardiopulmonary mortality.”

    According to “Health effects of particulate air pollution: time for reassessment?”:

    “We review recent epidemiologic studies that evaluated health effects of particulate air pollution and conclude that respirable particulate air pollution is likely an important contributing factor to respiratory disease”

    There are more.

    Your work is sloppy and the definition of unscientific. Where did the EPA claim that “there is no safe exposure to PM?” According to the EPA “Health studies have shown a significant association between exposure to fine particles and premature death from heart or lung disease. ” That in no way equates to the “EPA ha[ving] essentially determined PM to be the most toxic substance known to man.”

    What about actuarial math? Spiegelhalter’s claim is wrapped up in risk and probability. While smoking is a cause of cancer, it is not 100% certain that a person who smokes will develop cancer. And, even though a smoker has a statistically shorter life expectancy, any given smoker may live longer than any given nonsmoker. This is the reality of statistics. However, the fact is that cigarette smoking is associated with many health problems and so statistically speaking, a smoker will suffer from something due to smoking. The same goes for PM.

    If there is a problem with Spiegelhalter’s claim it is that most people don’t understand statistics.

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