Study: Air pol­lu­tion rules not strict enough

Le­gal lev­els high enough still to cause some deaths

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY LAURA KELLY

Air pol­lu­tion lev­els that meet na­tional stan­dards are still high enough to con­trib­ute to early deaths among the el­derly and mi­nori­ties, ac­cord­ing to a wide-rang­ing study in a peer-re­viewed med­i­cal jour­nal.

The find­ings by the Har­vard T.H. Chan School of Public Health pub­lished Thurs­day in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine prompted the study’s re­searchers and the jour­nal’s ed­i­tors to crit­i­cize Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion bud­get cuts to en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies and agen­cies.

The Har­vard re­searchers an­a­lyzed causes of death re­lated to ex­po­sure to air pol­lu­tants for nearly 61 mil­lion Medi­care and Med­i­caid ben­e­fi­cia­ries, from 2000 to 2012.

The pol­lu­tants an­a­lyzed in­cluded par­tic­u­late mat­ter — small par­ti­cles and liq­uid droplets in the air — no bigger than 2.5 mi­cro­grams, iden­ti­fied as PM2.5 and known to have neg­a­tive health ef­fects on the heart and lungs.

PM2.5 is found in emis­sions from con­struc­tion sites, un­paved roads, fields, smoke­stacks and fires. They form in the at­mos­phere in re­ac­tion to sul­fur diox­ide and ni­tro­gen ox­ide, pol­lu­tants from power plants, in­dus­tries and au­to­mo­biles, ac­cord­ing to the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

Re­searchers also com­pared rates of de­creased life-ex­pectancy linked to ex­po­sure to ozone gas, which can dam­age the lungs, cause chest pains and worsen chronic res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases such as asthma, the EPA says on its web­site.

Since 1970, the EPA es­tab­lished na­tional goals to cap rates of PM2.5 called the Na­tional Am­bi­ent Air Qual­ity Stan­dard (NAAQS). The stan­dard is reeval­u­ated ev­ery five years, with the goal in 2012 to limit rates to 12 mi­cro­grams.

From 2000 to 2015, the EPA noted a 37 per­cent de­crease of PM2.5 in the air.

In the study “Air Pol­lu­tion and Mor­tal­ity in the Medi­care Pop­u­la­tion,” the Har­vard re­searchers found that the death rate in­creased by 7.3 per­cent for ev­ery 10-mi­cro­gram in­crease of PM2.5, which trans­lates to 120,000 fa­tal­i­ties re­lated to ex­po­sure among peo­ple age 65 and older, the study’s lead author Qian Di ex­plained to Reuters.

Francesca Do­minici, a Har­vard pro­fes­sor of bio­statis­tics and co-author of the study, said the EPA has done an ad­mirable job in re­duc­ing the num­ber of pol­lu­tants na­tion­ally to to­day’s low lev­els, but the study fo­cused on the cause of mor­tal­ity in ar­eas where PM2.5 lev­els were be­low the stan­dard, show­ing that the ac­cepted level needs to be reeval­u­ated.

“In­deed, in the last 20 years we have been see­ing the level of pol­lu­tion go­ing down quite dra­mat­i­cally,” Ms. Do­minici told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “So what the pa­per is show­ing is we need to con­tinue to take this is­sue very se­ri­ously.”

“I can tell you for sure what we should not do,” she added, “which is to take steps back­wards to­ward this is­sue.”

An ac­com­pa­ny­ing ed­i­to­rial in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine crit­i­cized Pres­i­dent Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion for tak­ing steps that would cut fund­ing from the EPA and im­ple­ment poli­cies that work against en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, such as open­ing leases on new coal mines and dis­man­tling guide­lines that would re­duce emis­sions from coal­fired power plants.

Its au­thors — Re­becca Berger, Ramya Ra­maswami, Caren G. Solomon and Dr. Jeffrey M. Drazen — said fund­ing cuts to the EPA would harm the agency’s abil­ity to en­force reg­u­la­tions, and they de­nounced the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to with­draw from the Paris Cli­mate Agree­ment, com­mit­ments by 192 na­tions to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions con­tribut­ing to cli­mate change.

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