Although some self-interested parties like to downplay the effects, we’ve known for decades that air pollution kills thousands of people in the United States each year, 200,000 premature deaths annually according to the most accepted estimates. However, scientists hadn’t assigned a cause in nearly half those deaths.
Now a study of 4.5 million veterans over a 10-year period has determined that fine particulate matter is associated with nine lethal diseases, every year taking the lives of thousands of people before their time, some 9,700 in 2017 alone, as determined by another study team. Meanwhile, the Trump regime is determined to add more tarnish to its rancid environmental record and take some of those deaths off the books by changing the way they are calculated. At the root of the change is its effort to allow more coal plant emissions than would have been allowed under the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.
The culprit in these thousands of pollution deaths? Scientists label it PM2.5, the number referring to the maximum size of individual bits of particulate matter, calculated in microns. There are about 25,000 microns in an inch. These tiny bits of fossil fuel debris can burrow deep into the lungs.
Early deaths from breathing problems, heart illnesses, and other ailments have been definitively tied to PM2.5, which can come from hundreds of chemicals emitted by power plants, cars, construction sites, and other sources.
Key aspects of the peer-reviewed study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association include:
- The “attributable burden of death” associated with PM2.5 is “disproportionally borne by black individuals and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.”
- Black people are exposed to higher levels of PM2.5 because they are more likely to live and work near air pollution sources, but also because their health is harmed more than is the case with white people. That extra damage is at least in part attributable to the effects of poverty and inadequate access to good health care. One of the authors of the report calls this impact on African Americans a “double whammy.”
- 99% of the burden was associated with PM2.5 levels below standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, standards the Trump regime wants to weaken further.
A study published in August calculated that PM2.5 shortens U.S. life expectancy by an average of four months. Globally, the reduction is a year. University of Texas engineering professor Joshua Apte, who authored the study, told The New York Times that PM2.5 is “the single most important environmental pollutant for ill health and death.”
Emily Holden reports:
Miles Keogh, the executive director of a group that represents state and local air regulators, said: “We know people are harmed from exposure levels lower than the [current standards].
“The question is whether the trade-offs for society are worth it. If only a few people are harmed, maybe society accepts the risk,” Keogh said. “But when a study shows 99% of death occurring at exposure levels below that threshold, that should make us look much harder at whether the threshold protects people effectively enough.”
Last month, the Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel—members of the official PMR panel that Trump’s EPA unceremoniously dismantled last year—sent a letter to EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler pressing him to establish tougher air quality standards because of the “overall consistent scientific basis for finding that the current primary PM2.5 standards are not protective of public health.”
That letter probably landed in the rubbish bin. And it certainly won’t deter Donald Trump from repeating his lie about America having the “purest air on the planet.”