EPA Air Quality Research, Regulations Flawed, Study Finds

Published August 23, 2017

A new study shows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been wrong in claiming small particles of dust, dirt, and soot, known as PM2.5, cause hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year.

EPA has repeatedly used this claim to justify tighter and costlier restrictions on emissions from power plants and heavy industry. For example, most of the health benefits and lives EPA claims would be saved by its October 2015 Clean Power Plan (CPP) restricting emissions of carbon dioxide from new and existing power plants were actually attributed to associated reductions of PM2.5.

EPA has claimed various clean air regulations, both existing and in the process of coming into force, should prevent nearly 240,000 premature deaths in the United States each year. The Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology study suggests the EPA regulations have produced and will produce no measurable health benefit. EPA acknowledges the regulations have imposed billions of dollars in costs on the economy.

‘Little Evidence’ for EPA Claims

The study by statisticians S. Stanley Young, Richard L. Smith, and Kenneth K. Lopiano examined records of more than two million deaths across thirteen years in California’s eight most populated air basins. After examining air quality levels, PM2.5 and ozone, daily temperature levels, and relative humidity levels for more than 37,000 exposure days, the researchers found “little evidence for association between air quality and acute deaths” in California between 2000 and 2012.

“Our analysis finds little evidence for association between air quality and acute deaths,” write the authors. “The daily death variability was mostly explained by time of year or weather variables; [n]either PM2.5 nor ozone added appreciably to the prediction of daily deaths.”

In addition to the new ozone rules and the CPP, the Obama administration cited the claimed benefits of reduced PM2.5 to justify a rule limiting mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Without the assumed PM2.5 reduction benefits, the cost of lowering mercury emissions from power plants would exceed the benefits by a ratio of 1,600 to 1. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the mercury rule, citing the high costs and limited benefits.

Justifying the War on Coal

Steve Milloy, founder of the website Junkscience.com and author of the recent book Scare Pollution: Why and How to Fix the EPA, which examines in detail the science EPA used to justify its PM2.5 regulations, said EPA knew from the outset its PM2.5 regulations were based on faulty research.

“Although EPA’s researcher-cronies have known about the California study data for years, they have notably avoided addressing its devastating results,” said Milloy. “EPA used the claim PM2.5 kills hundreds of thousands of Americans every year to justify its war against the coal industry, including former President Obama’s global warming rules.

“EPA even tried to prevent publication of the California study, the best-conducted epidemiologic study on PM2.5 and death by far, because it found absolutely no association between PM2.5 and death,” Milloy said. “You don’t have to accept the results of the California study at face value; unlike the data EPA has been keeping secret for 20 years, the California study’s data is publicly available so anyone can do their own analysis.”

‘Secret Science’

Jay Lehr, science director for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says the new study reveals scientific findings EPA tried to keep secret.

“The EPA, with the help of the American Lung Association and radical environmental groups, has nearly succeeded in an attempted takeover of absolutely all industry in the United States, using secret science EPA refused to divulge to Congress when the latter investigated its PM2.5 findings,” Lehr said. “The best scientific research shows these particles are ubiquitous and, contrary to EPA’s claims, are harmless.

“Indeed, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health studied 8,899 underground coal miners exposed to high levels of small particulate matter daily and determined the death rate for miners from cardiopulmonary diseases didn’t differ in a meaningful way from that of the average U.S. worker,” Lehr said.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.


S. Stanley Young et al., “Air quality and acute deaths in California, 2000–2012,” Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, August 2017: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0273230017301538 (Behind Paywall)