EPA changes could cause 80,000 more deaths per decade
Two Harvard social scientists, writing an opinion column in a prominent medical journal, have put forward “an extremely conservative estimate” that some 80,000 more Americans could die each decade if proposed changes at the Environmental Protection Agency are implemented. The essay, which was not a formal peer-reviewed study, has added to the debate about how the agency uses scientific research.
David Cutler, a public-health economist, and Francesca Dominici, a biostatistician, looked at eight EPA policy actions that have been proposed or are in process-including rollbacks of Obama-era clean air, water and chemical rules-and tallied up the possible health impacts.
“A central feature of (President Donald Trump’s) agenda is environmental damage: making the air dirtier and exposing people to more toxic chemicals. The beneficiaries, in contrast, will be a relatively few wellconnected companies,” they wrote.
The essay appears as a “JAMA Forum” feature of the Journal of the American Medical Association, which allows researchers to offer individual perspectives on health and policy.
The EPA dismissed the essay as rhetoric, not research, in a statement provided to Bloomberg News.
“This is not a scientific article, it’s a political article. The science is clear: Under President Trump, greenhouse gas emissions are down, Superfund sites are being cleaned up at a higher rate than under President (Barack) Obama and the federal government is investing more money to improve water infrastructure than ever before,” the EPA said.
The agency did not respond to questions asking for additional supporting context for these assertions. In April, the EPA released data showing a decline in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from the previous years. The data ended in 2016, before the start of the current administration.
Cutler defended the commentary, pointing out that the estimates are based on the EPA’s own science, as presented in regulatory impact analyses. “If they don’t like what their scientists say, they should provide scientific reasons for thinking so,” he said.
The essay “presents highly speculative estimates of health impacts that reflect guess-work and assumptions of unknown validity, not facts implied by available data,” according to Tony Cox, president of a Denver-based applied research firm that specializes in health, safety and environmental risks.