My column for the Financial Post‘s “Junk Science Week.”
Junk Science Week: Behind the scientific fraud that claims air pollution is killing people:
Studies about people dying from air pollution are all funded by regulation-happy EPA, based on secret data, rubberstamped by EPA grantees
By Steve Milloy, June 20, 2017, Financial Post
What’s the biggest ongoing government-science fraud? Global warming hysteria comes to mind. But that’s not it. The largest, ongoing and provable government-science fraud is the claim that air pollution kills people.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency first claimed in 1996 that fine particles emitted from smokestacks and tailpipes — that is, soot — caused 15,000 Americans to die prematurely every year. Over the years, EPA escalated its body count to the point where first Obama EPA administrator Lisa Jackson testified to Congress in 2011 that fine particulate matter in the air (PM2.5) killed 570,000 Americans per year. That’s almost one-in-four annual deaths in the U.S. The United Nations adopted the EPA’s PM2.5 claims and extrapolated them into a global claim of 6.5 million deaths annually caused by soot.
The Obama administration used the EPA’s PM2.5 claim to destroy the U.S. coal industry with its various war-on-coal rules. Oddly enough, the Obama administration’s climate rules and “social cost of carbon” metric all depend on the notion that PM2.5 kills. The claimed effects of carbon dioxide pale in comparison.
So does PM2.5 actually kill that many people? Or really anyone at all? A new study just published in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology drives a stake through the heart of EPA’s claims.
The study compared daily PM2.5 levels in California with daily death counts during the 13 years between 2000 to 2012. Over those 4,745 days, no association could be found between PM2.5 levels and the over two million deaths included in the analysis. EPA claims that elderly people are most vulnerable to the allegedly lethal effect of PM2.5. But the California study specifically examined this issue and found no association between PM2.5 and deaths among the elderly.
Without a doubt this is the largest and best-conducted epidemiologic study ever on PM2.5. Virtually every death in California was considered and the state is meticulous about its air-quality data. California has the ultimate range in air quality, from the best to the worst in the U.S. In comparison, previous EPA-funded studies have focused only on limited (read “cherry-picked”) urban areas, rely on guesstimated or assumed PM2.5 levels and often include deaths from accidents, homicides and other causes that can’t possibly be related to PM2.5.
The new California study not only trumps EPA’s studies substantively, but procedurally as well. A key part of the scientific method is independent replication of scientific claims. But EPA has kept the raw data underlying its studies secret for 23 years. To no avail, Congress has passed bills and even subpoenaed the EPA for the data. In stark contrast, the data from the new study is publicly available. So if you are concerned by the fact that the California study was funded by the National Black Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, you can obtain the data and do the analysis yourself. You could not do that with the EPA studies.
EPA’s PM2.5 claims are also debunked by much other real-world evidence.
Coal miners are exposed to very high levels of PM2.5 in underground mines. During a single eight-hour shift, miners can be legally exposed to as much as 150 times the level of PM2.5 in average outdoor air. Not only do miners not drop dead after work, non-smoking miners live longer than the average worker.
You might think that if the PM2.5 in outdoor air killed anyone, we would see that occur in China where wintertime PM2.5 levels can exceed the level in average U.S. outdoor air by a factor of 20 to 100. But the only actual deaths ever attributable to PM2.5 in China have resulted from accidents caused by visibility problems.
While there have been several historic incidents of lethal air pollution — notably in the Meuse Valley, Belgium (1930), Donora, Pennsylvania (1948) and London (1952-53) — these tragedies were caused by concentrations of caustic-to-lung-tissue sulfur gas emissions from industrial plants that were trapped in place by temperature inversions. For example, autopsies at Donora revealed that victims’ lungs looked like those of World War I gas-attack victims.
The reason that such incidents don’t occur any more, including in China where PM2.5 levels are shockingly high, is that levels of sulfur gases are so low that even during modern temperature inversions, they don’t reach dangerous levels.
None of this is rocket science, yet it is a reality that EPA scientists don’t want people to know about. Instead, EPA claims it has literally thousands of studies showing that PM2.5 in outdoor air kills people. But these studies are all statistical in nature, funded by regulation-happy EPA, rely on secret data and then are reviewed and rubberstamped by EPA grant recipients. Moreover, EPA has admitted in litigation with me that its statistical studies fail to show that PM2.5 kills.
That’s why EPA resorted to illegal human testing in a bid to provide biological or medical evidence that PM2.5 kills. But no one died in any of those experiments either, despite being exposed to exceedingly high levels of PM2.5 concentrated from outdoor air.
EPA has spent about $600 million on bogus PM2.5 research since 2000. Its bogus claim that PM2.5 kills has caused hundreds of billions of dollars of damage to the U.S. economy. The fraud is plain to see.
Steve Milloy served on President Donald Trump’s EPA transition team and is the author of “Scare Pollution: Why and How to Fix the EPA.”