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Several members of a powerful Environmental Protection Agency scientific body expressed doubts at a hearing on Thursday on the longstanding scientific consensus on air pollution and premature death.
The Panel met to discuss recommendations that could fundamentally change the way in which the Authority analyzes the risks to public health of air pollution and lead to weaker regulation of soot.
The recommendations refer to how the EPA regulates microscopic soot particulate matter, which causes and exacerbates respiratory diseases such as asthma. To accurately determine how much particulate matter can breathe safely requires a complex analysis of a vast and growing body of scientific literature.
Before the EPA dissolved them last year, a 20-member Subcommittee called Particulate Matter Review Panel was responsible for helping the agency decide on how much air pollution Americans can safely breathe. After this group is no longer there, only the seven-member Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee can make recommendations.
At a public meeting on Thursday that lasted nearly two hours, several members of that committee, including chairman Tony Cox and Steven Packham of the Utah Department of Air Quality, said they disagreed that the soot-soiled Breathing air can lead to premature death.
[[Committee] "" Members have divergent opinions about the reasonableness of the evidence supporting the EPO's conclusion that there is a causal link between [particulate matter] exposure and mortality, "Cox said, reading from the draft committee's recommendations before he stated that he is "in fact horrified" because there is no scientific evidence linking particle pollution to premature death.
"This shows a red flag in front of a bull, so I acknowledge that," Cox continues.
The drafting of recommendations would drastically restrict the breadth and depth of the science used to determine safety US Air Pollution Limits by forcing the EPA to restrict the types of studies considered during the regulatory process.
The EPA currently bases its air pollution legislation on a large number of scientific studies on the relationship between health outcomes such as asthma or premature death and various types of air pollution, such as soot of varying microscopic size.
"The EPA has a very well-reviewed process that has been termed the weight of evidence over the years," says Francesca Dominici, a biostatist at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health who recently discussed the draft recommendations in the journal Science wrote. "This is a process that has been endorsed not only by the EPA but also by the National Academy of Sciences [and] and the scientific community accepts it pretty well."
"Anytime you try to assess the relationship between exposure For a pollutant and health hazard," Dominici says, "you need to make sure the evidence is consistent across many, many studies, and in many disciplines," including atmospheric chemistry, toxicology, epidemiology and exposure as well as data science. That's important, she explains, because no study captures everything about a particular pollutant.
"Millions of [people] can not be randomized around the world to breathe more pollution or less pollution, so we need to use observational data," says Dominici.
Decades of comprehensive analysis have allowed scientists to make clear recommendations to the EPA to protect Americans from air pollution. "They provide a very robust message that air pollution is harmful to human health," says Dominici.
However, at the hearing on Thursday, Cox and others expressed concern that the current system overstated scientific safety on air pollution.
"If we do not know that X causes Y, we should say we do not know," said Cox, who advises and lectures on various risk-related topics. He expressed his concern that the EPA would reduce air pollution, mistakenly believing that this would lead to fewer premature deaths.
To avoid this, Cox has established a referral language that emphasizes uncertainty about the links between air pollution and respiratory disease.
When the EPA adopts these recommendations, many scientists warn that the agency would underestimate the effects of air pollution on public health.
"I just want to emphasize the marginal nature of these proposals," says H. Christopher Frey, former chairman of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and member of the now defunct Fine Dust Testing Committee.
"It's a bit like the same issues that arose with the rejection of the health effects of tobacco or the averting of the health effects of climate change," says Frey. "There is a very small community that has scientific evidence, but is outside their field of expertise to raise doubts after doubt about doubts on issues that they really do not have the greatest competence in."
"There are other experts who are much stronger, much better informed and know a lot more about the lead," he argues.
In a surprising development, the entire panel seemed to agree that other experts should be consulted to review current recommendations. Members called on the EPA to either reinstate the dissolved 20-strong panel of particulate matter experts or to create a new extended body with even more expertise to review the recommendations of the Clean Air Advisory Council before they become final.