Midwest Gets Stuck with Tab for Northeast NOx Emissions

Published November 1, 1998

How did you spend the fall? Raking leaves? Winterizing?

I spent it watching health scares unravel. Meanwhile, EPA steamrolled over a whole new stretch of science. Let’s start there.

Late September saw the Environmental Protection Agency issue new rules requiring 22 states to cut smog-producing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 1.1 million tons by 2003. But only six of those states — Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — are responsible for one-half of the reductions. Why did EPA target these states?

EPA says NOx emissions from these states drifts eastward to cause smog in the Northeast. And while this may be true to a small extent, what’s really going on is the Northeast has shifted blame and costs for its own smog problem to the Midwest.

Some NOx from the Midwest does move eastward. But even EPA’s own advisory board, the Ozone Transport Assessment Group (OTAG), acknowledged that available science does not show that Midwestern NOx is responsible for Northeastern smog.

But by successfully blaming the Midwest, the Northeast does not have to cut its own emissions as much.

Thanks to EPA, Midwesterners will be paying higher utility bills (10 percent more for Ohioans, according to the Ohio EPA) and Northeasterners won’t have cleaner air. The only victor was EPA Administrator Carol Browner, who has clearly established she can do pretty much as she pleases on environmental policy without interference from Congress.

The junk science movement should thank its lucky stars for Browner. Without her, it would be in big trouble.

Key Chemical-Disrupter Test Fails Duplication Effort in Lab

October saw the release of a study that ought to discredit endocrine disrupter hysteria — the fear that manmade chemicals interfere with hormonal systems to cause everything from cancer to infertility to attention deficit disorder. A 1997 study by the crown prince of endocrine disruption, Frederick vom Saal, reported that low levels of the chemical bisphenol A, used in plastics, altered fetal development in a small study of mice.

The new study, supported by the plastics industry, was an effort to replicate vom Saal’s results. Strictly following vom Saal’s protocol, more mice were tested at more dose levels, higher and lower.

The results?

Vom Saal’s results couldn’t be replicated — showing that vom Saal’s study has little credibility.

Since vom Saal is a key scientific supporter of the theory of endocrine disruption, the new study represents yet another crippling blow to the chemophobia, 1990’s-style. But watch out: The endocrine disrupter crowd could always send Carol Browner into the ring. And they may have to, soon. November is slated to see the release of the much-anticipated endocrine disrupter report by the National Research Council.

Information leaked from those associated with the report indicate Ms. Browner may want to start warming up.

Despite this good news, industry continues to cave-in to the demands of the endocrine disrupter mob. Toy manufacturer Mattel recently decided to stop using chemicals called phthalates in certain toys. The company’s action was in response to pressure from Greenpeace, which said infants sucking on soft plastic toys were being exposed to harmful levels of phthalates. But if true, one would think someone would have noticed this during the last 40 years of phthalate use in toys.

WHO Finds No Cancer Risk in Second-Hand Smoke

October also saw the release of the long-awaited World Health Organization (WHO) study of secondhand smoke and lung cancer. A summary of the study appeared in an obscure 1997 WHO publication. The summary indicated the study was one of the two largest ever on secondhand smoke and that no link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer was reported. Media reports of the summary put the WHO on the defensive.

But while WHO could not change the study’s results, it could control when and how the study was released. WHO opted for publication in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, where it could be assured the right spin.

And that’s what it got.

The Journal allowed William Blot, one of the engineers on the EPA railroad that labeled secondhand smoke a carcinogen in 1993, to editorialize on the study. Blot wrote the “inescapable scientific conclusion” from the study was that secondhand smoke caused lung cancer.

In fact, the study didn’t bear Blot out. The study results show no statistically significant association between lung cancer and residential, occupational or social exposures to secondhand smoke. The study was such an embarrassment for the anti-tobacco industry, that it garnered very little media attention — basically a Reuters story that only reported what Blot wrote, not what the study said.