The tangled web of particulate pollution policy

I just finished submitting comments to the EPA on their proposed standards for particulate pollution. Rather than focusing on how to address the real health threats from air quality and get the most out of the rules we have in place to address them, the EPA is pursuing particulate standards that are not supported by epidemiological standards of evidence. You can read Reason’s brief comments on the proposed rules here. In a similar vein, my colleague Joel Schwartz finds similar problems with the science in the EPA’s new toxics report. In his column (here) he says

Based on EPA’s own estimates, air pollution even in the “most toxic” areas of the country poses a miniscule cancer risk. More importantly, EPA’s cancer risk estimates are grossly inflated, because they depend on the false assumption that chemicals pose the same per-unit cancer risks at real-world trace exposures as they do at massive laboratory exposures.

And Joel also dissects (here) the latest research in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that particulates kill mice:

However, researchers have been unable to kill animals with air pollution at levels anywhere near as low as the levels found in ambient air. As a recent review of particulate matter toxicology concluded: “It remains the case that no form of ambient PM — other than viruses, bacteria, and biochemical antigens — has been shown, experimentally or clinically, to cause disease or death at concentrations remotely close to US ambient levels.”

All three items are related because in each case activists, some researchers, and sometime the EPA, point to dramatic health impacts only by making extreme unrealistic assumptions or dropping standards of epidemiological research. It’s all about changing our thinking. Air pollution is dramatically different from what we thought 10 years ago–we are beating it, but too many are still stuck in the rut of “we’re all gonna die!” and can’t shift from finding the next crisis to working on getting results from the efforts we already have going.