EPA Data Show Fewer Children Affected by Air Pollution

October 25, 2006
Michael Van Winkle

(October 25, 2006 - Chicago, Illinois) New data released yesterday by the Environmental Protection Agency revealed "the percentage of children living in counties that do not meet the air quality standard for fine particulate matter declined from 24 percent to 16 percent from 1999 to 2004." Nevertheless, initial press reports have been negative, and EPA has received criticism from groups like Clean Air Watch over the data.

The following statement is from Joel Schwartz, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute. You may quote it in part or in full. To contact Schwartz for further comment, call 916/203-6309 or email joel@joelschwartz.com. For more information about The Heartland Institute, contact Michael Van Winkle at 312/377-4000, email vanwinkle@heartland.org.


"The Environmental Protection Agency's new report--'America's Children and the Environment'--notes that air pollution declined, but asthma prevalence continues to rise. One possible conclusion from this is that air pollution is not actually a cause of asthma. In fact, that's the most plausible conclusion.

"Every pollutant we measure has been dropping for decades pretty much everywhere, while asthma prevalence has been rising pretty much everywhere. This is true throughout the entire western world, not just the U.S. Asthma incidence is highest in countries with the lowest levels of air pollution. Asthma is rare in developing countries, despite their much more polluted air. Asthma incidence is simply unrelated to air pollution. Asthma attacks are probably unrelated as well.

"But even if air pollution can cause asthma attacks, it is a minor cause, responsible for less than 1 percent of all asthma attacks. EPA's own published estimates implicitly say this, but EPA never makes the percentage explicit, because that would undermine one of the agency's most potent weapons for creating unwarranted public fear.

"Instead, EPA continues to publish reports on children's health and the environment. It almost doesn't matter what the reports say. The very fact that EPA publishes these health reports at all creates the false appearance that the trace levels of air pollution in the environments of western countries are an important factor in children's health. After all, if air pollutants weren't a significant factor in people's health, EPA certainly wouldn't publish reports about them, would it?"