air pollution

Ignoring his own scientists and public health advocates, Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler refused today to tighten federal standards for soot emitted from auto tailpipes and smokestacks that causes serious respiratory harm.

The decision comes on the heels of the first nationwide study by a team of disease experts from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health that found COVID-19 sufferers who live in places with air polluted with higher levels of the tiny airborne soot particles known as PM2.5 are far more likely to die than those in areas with cleaner air.

In September 2019, EPA scientists published a draft review, required every five years, of the risks of keeping the current PM2.5 standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter. Their review of the latest research found that exposure to that level of soot is associated with 45,000 deaths each year. If the standards were tightened to nine micrograms per cubic meter, the number of premature deaths associated with PM2.5 exposure would fall by 12,150 people.

Wheeler’s decision not to lower the federal standards for PM2.5 came after lobbying by the oil and manufacturing industries, according to The New York Times. And today Wheeler dismissed the Harvard study, saying its authors were biased against the Trump administration.

“This decision by Andrew Wheeler is as tone-deaf as it is reckless,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “Right now, long-term exposure to PM2.5 is increasing the number of people who are dying from the coronavirus. If there ever was a moment for all Americans, regardless of political persuasion, to demand the Trump EPA stop gutting the nation’s air quality standards and finally place a premium on public health protection, it’s now.”

In farm country, industrial agriculture is also a major source of PM2.5, putting farm workers at greater risk.

“Farm workers are already unprotected from COVID-19, and they work in places with some of the highest PM levels in the nation,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs. “As the Harvard study shows, failing to reduce PM pollution will make the people who harvest our crops at great personal risk even more vulnerable to COVID-19.

The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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