A new study in the Lancet reports that while cocaine use is much more likely to trigger a non-fatal heart attack than air pollution (i.e., coarse particulate matter or PM10), air pollution is the more deadly trigger because more people are exposed to it. Continue reading Air pollution worse than cocaine for MIs?
A new study reports that people can suffer lung damage from ground-level ozone (smog) even at the strict new standards proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But this is yet another example of how science can be manufactured by EPA to fit its regulatory agenda.
Last month, the EPA delayed finalizing its proposed ozone standards, supposedly pending completion of a scientific review. This was the third delay for the rules which the agency hoped to have in place last August.
Although the Bush administration EPA had tightened the ozone standard to 75 parts per billion (ppb) in 2008, the Obama EPA proposed in January 2010 to further tighten the standard to between 60 to 70 ppb. But this proposal is quite controversial as its underlying science is questionable, and it would be very expensive and inconvenient to implement and comply with. And unlike the case of greenhouse gas regulation where EPA has successfully divided the big business community, businesses are united against these rules and so have been able to exert sufficient pressure on the White House to cause the Obama EPA to hiccup — a remarkable occurrence.
But the ever-resourceful EPA and its long-time partner-in-junk science, the American Lung Association, rushed to publication a new study that purports to show that the proposed standards may not be tight enough. (Aside from its publication in an ideologically friendly journal, the study was still in Word document format, as opposed to journal format, when it was released).
Healthy young adults can suffer lung damage at the lowest level of ozone pollution being studied by U.S. EPA as the agency prepares stricter limits on smog, according to new research that was touted today by public health groups.
Published today in the American Journal of Respiratory and Clinical Care Medicine, the study provides the strongest evidence yet that most of the U.S. population is being exposed to dangerous air pollution, the American Lung Association said.
“This study provides even greater evidence for a stronger ozone standard to protect the public from the nation’s most widespread air pollutant,” said Norman Edelman, the American Lung Association’s chief medical officer, in a statement. “Ozone today remains a threat that we need all the tools in the Clean Air Act to combat.”
Contrary to the above-captioned claims, however, the only thing this study proves is that scientific study should be removed from the EPA.
EPA researchers had 59 healthy young adults (ages 19-35) exercise in a zero ppb ozone chamber and, a week or so later, had them exercise again in a 60ppb ozone chamber. Study subjects spent 6.6 hours in the chamber each time, engaging in 50 minutes of exercise (alternating bike/run) with a 10-minute break per hour. Spirometry measurements (forced expiratory volume at one second, FEV1, and forced vital capacity, FVC) were taken before and after the chamber exposures.
Here are the results. When exposed to 60 ppb ozone while biking/running for 6.6 hours, study subjects had a statistically significant mean decline in FEV1 of about 1.75 percent and a decline in FVC of about 1.19 percent more than when exercising in zero ppb ozone.
Do these results matter? Are the reported reductions in FEV1 and FVC meaningful? From a clinical perspective, no. Changes in FEV1 and FVC are clinically important at levels ranging from 15-20 percent — not 1-2 percent.
Underscoring the meaninglessness of the changes allegedly “measured” is that spirometry is not so precise that such small changes can be reliably detected and attributed to anything other than how hard the subjects inhaled and exhaled. It’s interesting to note, for example, that the results inexplicably differed for men and women. The margins of error reported for the men indicate the ironic possibility, in fact, that the 60 ppb exposure may actually have increased their FEV1 and FVC. Since this is not likely to have happened, the explanation must lie in the unreliability of the spirometry.
Moreover, the study subjects were likely exposed to much higher levels of ozone than the researchers say they were. As air quality expert Joel Schwartz pointed out in his 2007 book Air Quality in America (AEI Press), the ozone doses used in the laboratory studies are based on ambient concentrations measured by monitors, rather than real personal exposures. But as it turns out,
… [the] ozone concentrations measured at the ambient monitors used to determine Clean Air Act compliance are much higher—at least 65 percent higher, on average—than the concentrations in the air people actually breathe in. Several factors contribute to the discrepancy between monitored ozone levels and personal exposures. Ambient monitors are often placed several feet above typical human head-height to avoid interferences from people and surfaces near the ground. However, ozone deposition on surfaces (such as clothing or the ground) reduces the levels in the air that people actually breathe in. Levels also tend to be lower near roads, due to destruction by nitric oxide emitted by vehicles. Finally, there is evidence that the equipment used for regulatory monitoring gives ozone readings that might be biased high.
So although the EPA researchers claim the study subjects were exposed to 60 ppb ozone, that level equates to about 92 ppb measured by an outdoor monitor measuring ambient ozone — a level that is 22 percent higher than the existing standard set by the Bush administration and more than 50 percent higher than the tightest level proposed by the Obama administration.
Schwartz also observed that,
In addition to using personal exposures that are too high, laboratory studies also use “background” ozone exposures that are too low. To determine the health effects of ozone, researchers compare subjects’ lung function while breathing ozone with their lung function while breathing “clean” air—that is, air representing some background exposure level. All studies to date have used ozone-free air for this background level. This too is unrealistic, because there is always some natural background ozone in air due to natural emissions of ozone-forming pollutants from vegetation, lightning, and occasional transport of ozone to ground level from the stratosphere. Some ozone and ozone-forming pollutants are also transported into the United States from other countries. This background level of ozone is a matter of controversy, but it is certainly not zero.
But does the science really matter? Isn’t ground-level ozone (aka smog) just bad? And shouldn’t we do everything possible to live in a zero-smog world?
To put the EPA’s new non-results in context, consider what economist Donald Norman, PhD. of the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI estimates will be the costs of tightening the ozone standard to 60 ppb:
… the annual cost of attaining a standard of 60 ppb would be $1.013 trillion between 2020 and 2030, equivalent to 5.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020. The present value of attainment costs over this period amounts to $7.1 trillion based on a discount rate of 7 percent.
Norman’s other key findings include:
- GDP would be reduced by $676.8 billion in 2020 (in 2010 dollars), an amount that represents 3.6 percent of projected 2020 GDP in the baseline case (2.5 percent annual GDP growth);
- Total U.S. job losses attributable to a 60 ppb ozone standard are estimated to rise to 7.3 million by 2020, a figure equal to 4.3 percent of the projected 2020 labor force;
- Job jeopardy and the impacts of a 60 ppb ozone standard are largest in states where there is considerable manufacturing and refining activity. The states with the largest job losses include: Texas, which would lose nearly 1.7 million jobs at a total attainment cost and reduction in GDP of $452 billion (in 2010 dollars); Louisiana, which would lose 983,000 jobs at a cost of $270 billion; California, which would lose 846,000 jobs at a cost of $210 billion; Illinois, which would lose 396,000 jobs at a cost of $98 billion; and Pennsylvania, which would lose 351,000 jobs at a cost of $86 billion;
- Together, annual attainment costs and reduced GDP in 2020 would total $1.7 trillion…
Should we sacrifice millions of jobs and trillions of dollars to improve U.S. public health by precisely zero?
In a March 1992 report by a blue ribbon panel of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, Safeguarding the Future: Credible Science, Credible Decisions, the agency was warned not to adjust science to fit policy.
But 19 years later, the agency has yet to embrace this advice. It’s doubtful that EPA ever will on its own. The solution is for Congress to remove the scientific research function from the EPA and put it someplace where it’s less susceptible to politicization.
This article begins a series examining the science and economics behind the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposals to tighten air quality standards for ground-level ozone (O3 or smog) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5 or soot). There are two proposed EPA rules at issue:
- National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone (NAAQS), proposed in January 2010; and
- Clean Air Transport rule, proposed in July 2010.
Starting with the science used by the EPA to justify its regulatory action with respect to smog, the agency proposed to make more stringent the ozone NAAQS as follows:
EPA proposes that the level of the 8-hour primary standard, which was set at 0.075 ppm in the 2008 final rule, should instead be set at a lower level within the range of 0.060 to 0.070 parts per million (ppm), to provide increased protection for children and other ‘‘at risk’’ populations against an array of O3-related adverse health effects that range from decreased lung function and increased respiratory symptoms to serious indicators of respiratory morbidity including emergency department visits and hospital admissions for respiratory causes, and possibly cardiovascular-related morbidity as well as total nonaccidental and cardiopulmonary mortality.
The first field study that the EPA cites in its proposal is a 1998 study by Korrick et al. that the EPA describes as follows:
The results of one large study of hikers (Korrick et al., 1998), which reported outcome measures stratified by several factors (e.g., gender, age, smoking status, presence of asthma) within a population capable of more than normal exertion, provide useful insight. In this study, lung function was measured before and after hiking, and individual O3 exposures were estimated by averaging hourly O3 concentrations from ambient monitors located at the base and summit. The mean 8-hour average O3 concentration was 0.040 ppm (8-hour average concentration range of 0.021 ppm to 0.074 ppm O3). Decreased lung function was associated with O3 exposure, with the greatest effect estimates reported for the subgroup that reported having asthma or wheezing,
and for those who hiked for longer periods of time.
Here’s how the study was conducted, according to its authors:
During the summers of 1991 and 1992, volunteers (18-64 years of age) were solicited from hikers on Mt. Washington, New Hampshire. Volunteer nonsmokers with complete covariates ( n = 530) had pulmonary function measured before and after their hikes. We calculated each hiker’s posthike percentage change in forced expiratory volume in 1 sec (FEV1 ) , forced vital capacity (FVC) , the ratio of these two (FEV1 /FVC) , forced expiratory flow between 25 and 75% of FVC (FEF 25-75% ), and peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR).
Here are the reported results:
After adjustment for age, sex, smoking status (former versus never) , history of asthma or wheeze, hours hiked, ambient temperature, and other covariates, there was a 2.6% decline in FEV1 [95% confidence interval (CI) , 0.4-4.7 ; p = 0.02] and a 2.2% decline in FVC (CI, 0.8-3.5 ; p = 0.003) for each 50 ppb increment in mean O3.
Accepting these results at face value (i.e., blaming O3 for the reported effect), none are of clinical significance. FEV1 values between 80% to 120% of average are considered normal. It follows then that a 2.6% decline, especially after strenuous hiking, is not clinically significant.
But then is it really appropriate to attribute even this insignificant decline to O3 in the first place?
Fig. 2 in the study indicates that O3 levels varied throughout the day, but the researchers only took spirometry measurements at the beginning and end of each hike. So there’s no data that indicate spirometry measurements varied with changes in O3 levels.
Even if it was possible to wave a statistical wand over the FEV1 and FVC measurements to adjust for the potential confounding risk factors (most of which were self-reported and not verified or validated by the researchers), important potential confounding risk factors variables were omitted, e.g., hiker fitness and hiking intensity to name just two.
Moreover, hikers were volunteers and not selected at random, possibly introducing some sort of bias into the mix.
The researchers needed to show that O3 caused the changes in spirometry, but they didn’t. In any event, the changes weren’t clinically significant.
At most, this study provides evidence that hiking up and down a mountain may slightly affect one’s breathing. It does not show, as the EPA claims, that even low levels of O3 (i.e., levels 47% lower than the current standard) are a public health problem.
… it would leave China, not the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Apple told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in its resignation letter:
“Apple is committed to protecting the environment and the communities we operate in around the world. We strongly object to the Chamber’s recent comments opposing the EPA’s efforts to limit greenhouse gases. We would prefer the Chamber take a more progressive stance on this critical issue and play a constructive role in addressing the climate crisis. However, because the Chamber’s position differs so sharply with Apple’s, we have decided to resign our membership effective immediately.”
So when will Apple pressure the Chinese government to adopt the Clean Air Act? Isn’t actual air pollution in China much worse than the invisible, if not debatable/mythical, problem of U.S. CO2 emissions?
We doubt that Apple has any answers to those questions as Al I-need-cap-and-trade-to-become-the-first-carbon-billionaire Gore sits on its board of directors and, no doubt, cheerled Apple’s resignation from the U.S. Chamber.
By Steven Milloy
December 11, 2008, FoxNews.com
Has public health replaced patriotism as the new “last refuge of scoundrels”?
T. Boone Pickens’ self-enrichment plan to switch America into natural gas-powered cars and wind power was initially advertised as a means to wean America off foreign oil. When the plan was announced last July, oil had spiked to $147 per barrel, and Pickens’ TV ads blamed our oil “addiction” for a $700 billion annual “wealth transfer” to foreigners.
But what a difference five months makes.
Oil prices have since plummeted to below $50 per barrel, vaporizing any price advantage of natural gas over conventional gasoline. Frozen credit markets have blocked Pickens from the private financing needed to build wind farms. His own financial resources have suffered as many investors pulled out of Pickens’ hedge fund, BP Capital, after losses of as much as 60 percent.
But Pickens seems to have a “Plan B”: he’s re-casting wind power as a public health crusade, apparently hoping to obtain taxpayer financing from the Obama administration.
Toward that goal, the American Lung Association (ALA) endorsed the Pickens Plan this week. Chairman Steve Nolan claimed that “millions of Americans are consistently exposed to pollution levels that are scientifically proven to be harmful. [The ALA] applauds Mr. Pickens’ goal … because cleaner energy will make our air healthier to breathe.”
The ALA media release said that “Cars, trucks, heavy equipment, factories, power plants and other sources burn coal and oil and bombard the air with smog, soot, carcinogens, toxic chemicals and metals. Breathing dirty air causes hospitalizations, asthma attacks, heart attacks and lung cancer, as well as shortening the lives of tens of thousands of people in this country every year….”
Added Pickens: “The ALA tells me that well over 125 million people live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution.”
Also chiming in was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who, invoking the specter of childhood asthma, said, “Stopping the pollution that chokes out children’s lungs… will ensure a… healthier future for New York City.”
While a thorough debunking of the myth that current U.S. air quality levels are associated with health problems is beyond the scope of this column, we can examine Bloomberg’s indictment of New York’s air quality as a cause of asthma.
The city’s air quality has been cast as a health threat since at least the Great Depression. A 1931 report by the NYC health commissioner hypothesized that air pollution “played a large role in the production of asthma.” But this assertion was never proven true.
An October 1962 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined hospitalizations for asthma during a November 1953 spike in NYC air pollution. No increase in hospital visits was identified. After a November 1966 “air pollution emergency,” the New York Times editorialized that the city had “good fortune in escaping serious harm to the health of its residents.”
Amid a July 1970 spike in air pollution, the New York Times reported that, “There is no evidence yet to show that this week’s foul air in New York City has led to increased deaths or sickness, according to the city Health Department.” The Times also noted that, “while suspicions [that air pollution aggravates emphysema, bronchitis and arteriosclerosis] continue, there still is no direct scientific evidence that air pollution can initiate disease of the lungs or other organs in an otherwise healthy person.”
The Times’ report was published six weeks after the federal Clean Air Act of 1970 was enacted — since which time U.S. air pollution levels have dropped dramatically, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet the ALA, Pickens and Bloomberg apparently would have us believe that current air quality is “choking children.” This claim is not supported by Bloomberg’s own Department of Health and Hygiene, which acknowledges that it doesn’t know what causes or triggers asthma.
While the ALA is correct that many people live in areas that, for one reason or another, don’t meet strict federal air quality standards 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, it’s important to remember that these standards are designed as attainable regulatory goals, not scientifically based health standards. There is no evidence that typical violations of air quality standards endanger the public health whatsoever.
The ALA’s interest in air pollution may, of course, be more related to its own financial health than the public health. When the ALA began in 1904, tuberculosis was its concern. Later, smoking became its focus. But the ALA’s success on those fronts has left a mission void which, as this column reported in 2001, is being partly filled with environmental activism for which it has received financial support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
So far, Pickens has not made a donation to the ALA and was not asked to do so, an organization spokesman told me. My call to Pickens’ media person was not returned.
Pickens said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last July that his plan could be implemented through private — as opposed to taxpayer — investment. But in a Reuters interview this week, he said, “‘Where’s the money?’ is the question. I don’t know how we’ll do it. I’m anxious to see what Obama comes up with. There’s no money to finance a wind project now.”
Pickens-the-billionaire apparently hopes to pick the taxpayer’s wallet through Obama’s promised public works stimulus package, which includes both green and infrastructure jobs. Pickens’ scheme would cover both bases, and he’s probably figuring that further coloring it as a public health measure can only help.
But air quality is not and never has been the public health culprit that some would like to make it out to be. That Pickens feels he needs to position his plan as a public health measure only further underscores its bankruptcy as public policy.
Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and manages the Free Enterprise Action Fund. He is a junk science expert and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
By Steven Milloy
February 2, 2001, FoxNews.com
“Independent Institute Finds Key Pollution Studies Are Sound Science,” blared a recent press release from the American Lung Association.
Yet one of the most controversial “junk science” issues of recent years — whether air pollution causes premature death — will remain controversial for the foreseeable future despite activist claims and media headlines.
The ALA goes on to say studies show “once again that air pollution shortens lives, and strong [Environmental Protection Agency] standards are needed to protect public health.”
But the reality is somewhat different — at least according to Health Effects Institute, the organization whose research the ALA cited.
The saga started in November 1996 when the EPA proposed more stringent regulation of airborne particulate matter, otherwise known as soot. The EPA initially claimed further regulation would prevent 20,000 “premature deaths” every year at an annual cost of $8 billion. By valuing each life saved at about $5 million, the EPA estimated the monetary benefits of saving these lives at $100 billion per year.
But the validity of the EPA’s estimates is in question. In particular, the estimate of premature deaths was based on the “Pope study,” so called for its lead researcher, C. Arden Pope of Brigham Young University. The Pope study reported that airborne particulates were associated with a 17 percent increase in premature deaths. But this result constituted only a weak statistical correlation — not scientific proof of a cause-and-effect relationship between air particulate pollution and premature death.
Although the study included more than 550,000 people, the researchers did not measure the level of exposure to air pollution for even one study subject. Instead, they guessed how much pollution these individuals might have encountered. The researchers also failed to look at the subjects’ diets, income, health histories, genetic predispositions to illness, exercise habits and social habits — all well-established risk factors for premature death.
The study did adjust for some factors — including smoking habits, education level and occupational exposures — but additional adjustments could easily negate the purported 17 percent increase in risk.
A further problem was that no one has ever demonstrated how typical levels of airborne particulates could cause premature death.
In this context, the reported correlation could easily have been a statistical artifact. According to the National Cancer Institute, “In epidemiologic research, [risks of less than 100 percent] are considered small and usually difficult to interpret. Such increases may be due to chance, statistical bias or effects of confounding factors that are sometimes not evident.”
But the EPA did not back down — even when an elementary statistical error in the EPA’s calculations was discovered that knocked down the lives-saved estimated to 15,000 or when some economists estimated the proposal’s cost to exceed $100 billion annually.
The controversy prompted Congress to ask the EPA to produce the Pope study’s raw data so independent scientists could check the results.
The EPA initially balked, saying there was no purpose in any re-analysis of the EPA-funded study. Finally, after issuing the regulations, the EPA did provide access to the data — to the Health Effects Institute, a Massachusetts-based research organization funded by the EPA and the auto industry.
HEI issued its report last week, three years after the regulations were finalized. The results are not quite as the ALA press release touts.
Using essentially the identical methodology as the Pope study researchers, HEI produced virtually the same results — hardly a surprise. A naive media reported this “replication” in headlines such as “Research on Air Particles Passes Muster” and “Studies Back Particulates’ Link to Death.”
But the re-analysis has essentially the same shortcomings as the original study. The researchers did not factor into their analysis the effect of diet or genetics on death rates. Data on exercise habits were factored in, and ended up reducing risk estimates by almost 30 percent. But the quality of the data on exercise is debatable; incredibly, it indicates no difference in death rates between non-exercising study subjects and heavy-exercising study subjects. Better quality exercise data could have an even more dramatic effect on the numbers.
There is a similar data-quality problem with health history. The re-analysis paradoxically indicates that healthy study subjects had twice the risk of premature death of diseased study subjects.
Neither of these data problems is surprising given how the study data were collected. The American Cancer Society amassed the data by having 70,000 volunteers — not trained data-collection specialists — go to their friends, family and neighbors and ask personal, health-related questions. No effort was made to verify or validate the study subjects’ responses.
It’s no wonder the HEI concluded its report: “It is important to bear in mind that the results of our re-analysis alone are insufficient to identify a causal relation with mortality.”
So why did the ALA jump to its conclusion? That question perplexed HEI’s president Daniel Greenbaum, who noted the ALA issued a press release last April titled “New Health Research ‘Vindicates’ EPA; Soot Particles Are Deadly, Lung Association Notes” — three months before the HEI report was made available to the public.
The explanation, though, lies with the finances and politics of the ALA. As first reported by Investors Business Daily in January 1997, “The ALA has had a long — and lucrative — relationship with the EPA.” In the years before the EPA air-pollution proposal, the agency gave the ALA almost $5 million — despite the ALA suing the EPA almost every year claiming the agency wasn’t complying with the nation’s air-pollution laws.
“If you think the EPA is upset with the ALA suing them, think again,” said Scott Segal, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney. “Truth be known, the EPA wants to be sued, because every time they are sued it expands the reach of the Clean Air Act.”
Unfortunately for the ALA and the EPA, another lawsuit has pre-empted the claimed “vindication” of the Pope study. A federal appellate court overturned the EPA regulations in May 1999 on a number of grounds. The case is pending before the Supreme Court.
No doubt more research will continue into the potential health effects of air pollution. But another byproduct of the Pope study controversy may change the shape of the next scientific debate. Because of difficulty in obtaining the Pope study data, a federal law was enacted in October 1998 requiring that federally funded scientific data used to support federal policy must be publicly available through the Freedom of Information Act.
With any luck, the next debate over the potential health effects of air pollution won’t be hampered by EPA’s “secret science.”
Steven Milloy is a biostatistician, lawyer, adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and publisher of Junkscience.com.
By Steven Milloy and Michael Gough
May 24, 1999, New York Post
Rep. James Walsh, an upstate Republican, apparently wants New Yorkers to spend billions of dollars annually based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s “secret science.”
In 1996, the EPA proposed new, more stringent national air-quality standards, estimated to cost New Yorkers as much as $3.3 billion annually and a loss of 10,000 jobs.
The EPA’s justification? It claimed the rules would save 15,000 American lives per year.
But that claim was based on a single scientific study (the “Pope study”). And that study wasn’t published in (and therefore peer-reviewed via) a top-line journal such as the New England Journal of Medicine, but a journal of the American Lung Association – a group that gets millions in EPA grants and lobbied actively for the new air-quality regulations.
Only the EPA has ever seen the Pope study data – and when Congress requested the data for independent examination, the EPA refused. Under political pressure, it relented – and the researchers took up the stonewall.
They claimed proprietary right to the data – event though the study was paid for with taxpayer dollars, was being used to impose huge costs and was requested by a Congress hardly interested in going into the scientific research business.
The EPA then cavalierly disregarded all objections – from its own science advisers, Congress and a bipartisan group of governors and mayors – and imposed the new regulations.
Industry sued. Congress legislated.
A new law extends the Freedom of Information Act to cover taxpayer-funded studies which are used to justify federal regulations. This would prevent agencies from regulating on the basis of “secret science.”
Now Rep. Walsh is leading a charge to have this “sunshine in the government” law repealed: He’s set to present an amendment today to block the law.
The EPA is confident the “data access” law is doomed: It’s now using the Pope study to justify new rules covering gasoline’s sulfur content and sport-utility-vehicle tailpipe emissions.
The EPA claims the rules will cost $3.5 billion a year – to save up to 2,400 lives per year. Is that claim accurate? Who knows? The EPA continues to refuse access to the Pope study.
Fortunately for now, a federal court this month found the EPA’s air-quality standards to be unconstitutional. But the EPA is unlikely to give up. Assuming the agency can figure out a constitutional way of regulating, Rep. Walsh is helping ensure that the science won’t face public scrutiny.
Steven Milloy is an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute. Michael Gough is a senior scientist with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.