Monday, June 02, 2008


On March 27, 2008, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson stiffened the 8-hour standard for ground-level ozone from 0.08 parts per million to 0.075 ppm, which every state is required to attain. Critics argued that because he did not stiffen it to .07 or below, serious health effects would occur: decreased lung function, increased asthma attacks, and premature death. Writes the National Association of Clean Air Agencies’ director to the Wall Street Journal (May 30),

Yet Mr. Johnson chose to forgo an opportunity to protect the health and welfare of millions … who will … be exposed to excessive levels of ozone because they are not being covered by the new standard.

From the beginning, around 1960, emissions of ozone-smog have been overstated, while its downward trend over decades has been understated. The concentration of ozone and particulate matter comes not just from emissions of autos but also from nature (trees and bushes). Hugh W. Ellsaesser, who retired from the U.S. Air Force after 20 years as an Air Weather Officer and from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory after 23 years of atmospheric and climate research, was there at the beginning, and his early reports have been used in this column. He remarked in 1978,

W]e now have published evidence that the current particulate, hydrocarbon and oxidant standards would be exceeded in many areas even in the complete absence of man. Yet, because [EPA Administrator] Ruckelshaus certified in 1971 that these standards were required to protect public health, EPA is mandated to attain them regardless of cost.

The pollutants listed in the law are hydrocarbons, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, lead, carbon monoxide , and particulates—soot). Carbon dioxide (your exhaled breath) was added recently by the U.S.Supreme Court .

Dr. Ellsaesser observed that airborne concentrations did not fall as emissions from autos were reduced by regulations. Sometimes the concentrations fell more rapidly than emission-estimates. Natural sources and natural removal processes constantly operated to remove these substances from the atmosphere, once they were airborne. Remarked Dr. Ellsaesser in 1978:

Learning after the fact that we made a ten billion dollar a year commitment against the scourge of air pollution, we now appear to be nearing a consensus that the goals were set too high and that we may already have passed the point at which costs outweigh benefit.

Thus the evidence did not support the adopted Air Quality Standards of California and of the U.S. (A 1995 study of costs and benefits by Kenneth Chilton showed costs outrunning benefits dramatically.) The trend has been downward at a faster rate than after EPA came into the picture, but the public does not know it because EPA has failed to publish the pre-1985 data (EPA Air Quality Trends, 1995).

The justification for stiffening standards is health effects: “any detectable physiological response” including odor, eye irritation, carboxyhemoglobin level, enzyme level, or interference with function like increased respiratory resistance.

If air pollution were related to lung cancer, correlations of lung-cancer rates with measured pollution should have been found in the United Kingdom where cancer rates were high and pollution, heavy. (Cancer-rates are positively correlated with population-density.)

Lung function, said to be decreased by ozone, is not an illness. It is a measure of the amount of air a person can exhale in a second. Dr. Ellsaesser says it is equivalent to the loss found after one inhalation from a cigarette. It is temporary.

The American Lung Association has advertised there will be an increase in “deaths from asthma and lung cancer.” Deaths from asthma are rare, fewer than three percent of the deaths from lung cancer. Lumping the two together is a way of heightening alarm.

Asthma has nothing to do with ozone. EPA’s own statistical correlation of ozone and hospital admissions predicted that the new ozone standard would reduce admissions by only 0.06 percent (essentially nothing). Even in Los Angeles , the elephant of ozone-smog, no chronic respiratory disease has been linked to high ozone-levels.

In the l984 Olympics in Los Angeles , 40 American gold medalists were asthmatics. Ozone has decreased while asthma-rates have risen. Asthma-rates have been increasing in all industrialized countries. (Even minor health effects can be avoided by staying indoors and avoiding exercise when the ozone-level rises, in late afternoon in hot summer sun.)

Another unproved health effect is premature deaths, estimated by EPA as 40,00, revised to 20,000, re-revised to15,000. Irrational, observes Dr..Ellsaesser:

The inability to identify specific victims of air pollution’s health effects, even in Los Angeles , and in the so-called Air Pollution Episodes of Meuse Valley, Belgium; Donora, Penna; and London England in 1952—if these cannot be identified, what is the evidence that reducing air pollution is going to improve health? What is the point of reducing a health effect that will not become evident in a normal human lifetime?

“Regulators’ and environmentalists’ powers, funding, and prestige depend on the continued public perception that air pollution is still a serious problem,” writes Joel Schwartz, author of several books on air regulations. EPA’s independent Science Advisory Board warned in 1992 that “EPA should be a source of unbiased scientific information . . . [but] has not always ensured that contrasting, reputable scientific views are well-explored and well-documented.” In 1999, 13 EPA scientists complained in a letter to the Washington Times that EPA’s science is polluted. When scientists choose to work in environmental health research, their environmentalism is not about science or health, states Schwartz. “It is about power, control, and ideology.”

By Natalie Sirkin

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