Amid anti-regulatory sentiment at the federal level, the dismissal of five scientists from an EPA scientific review board and withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, new evidence published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) by Di et al. shows that current national air pollution standards do not fully protect public health. Juxtaposed with Trump administration policies, this study clearly shows that America cannot afford to roll back regulations that protect air quality. On the contrary, the scientific evidence must be used to craft more stringent policies that safeguard all Americans.
Using data from over 60 million Medicare beneficiaries (ages 65 and older) between 2000 and 2012, Harvard researchers found increased risks of mortality linked to fine particle pollution (PM2.5) and ground-level ozone at annual exposure levels less than those set by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Complementing conventional wisdom that high levels of air pollution negatively impact health, this study signals that even low levels of air pollution can lead to increased risk of death. In the case of PM2.5, researchers found no safe threshold of PM2.5 exposure.
The implications of this NEJM study are clear: increased death rates could be among the negative consequences of the Trump administration’s actions and policies. For example, a recent decision by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt delayed designations of ozone nonattainment areas. Hence, out-of-compliance areas under the current standards can remain in non-compliance for another year without penalties. The PM 2.5 national standard, last reviewed in 2012, is scheduled to be under review soon.
It is crucial that government representatives are called upon to resist deregulation of pollution sources and protect public health by supporting strong clean air policies. Since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 enormous progress has been made to decrease the number of premature deaths tied to air pollution. We must not sacrifice the lives of vulnerable groups by relaxing air-quality standards that are already inadequate.
Lawrence W. Raymond, M.D., and Jeff Walden, M.D.
The Arctic wilderness and offshore of the East Coast are targeted for drilling in a plan from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) of the Interior Department . There is no need to keep on burning coal, methane and oil, especially in the face of the fact that the Western Antarctic Peninsula is losing ice – such as the trillion-ton iceberg that broke away recently due to warming.
Despite these warning signals, the Trump administration’s plan to continue the “Drill Baby, Drill” approach is not good for the future. Glad Gov. Cooper has prudently opposed offshore drilling of the North Carolina coast.
Robert Y. George, Ph.D