Air Pollution Experts Say Current Standards Must Be Strengthened to Protect Public Health

Dismissed by Trump Administration, Scientists Speak Out Anyway

Published Oct 22, 2019

Washington (October 22, 2019)—Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dismissed its panel of experts on particulate matter, depriving the agency of critical advice for setting standards around one of the most common and harmful air pollutants. The dismissed scientists came together anyway this month to review the science and offer their expertise—and what they found should compel the EPA to tighten rules to protect public health.

Today, the Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel issued its consensus letter on the science and policy of particulate matter. The twenty scientists, the leading experts in their fields, have reviewed the latest science and determined that today’s standards, including those for PM2.5—particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers, which can enter the lungs and bloodstream and contribute to serious health problems—are too lenient and must be strengthened. This conclusion is based on a broad range of new evidence from epidemiological and other health studies that have occurred since the last particulate matter review in 2012.

The scientists’ letter will be delivered to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and presented today at the EPA’s seven-member Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) meeting. The letter is the result of a meeting of the panel convened earlier this month hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“The EPA is legally obligated to set air-pollution standards to protect public health and welfare,” said Dr. Gretchen Goldman, the research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS. “Despite its dismissal by the Trump administration, the Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel has finished its job of providing expert science advice. Administrator Wheeler should do his and follow the science.”

The panel's recommendation holds additional weight because CASAC, by its own admission, is not fully equipped to weigh in.

“Given that CASAC noted in written comments that it lacked expertise in key disciplines, it was heartening to see a much larger group, with substantial experience and a wider range of scientific perspectives, conduct an informed review,” said John Bachmann, the former associate director for science/policy in EPA’s Air Office, who provided policy support to the independent panel and helped lead past reviews at EPA. “This panel is experienced in conducting research in the most critical areas related to assessing the health and welfare effects of PM. They weighed evidence, discussed alternative views, and came to a consensus consistent with the great majority of air pollution researchers.”

On October 24th and 25th, CASAC is set to issue its own recommendation to the EPA. If this panel, led by Trump appointee Tony Cox, doesn’t advise a stronger standard, they’ll be ignoring not just the independent panel’s analysis, but the review by the EPA’s own staff scientists.

“Based on full consideration of the overall body of scientific evidence, we unequivocally found that the current standards for fine particulate matter do not protect public health and must be revised,” said Dr. H. Christopher Frey, the former chair of CASAC who led the independent panel. “There is no way for EPA to spin this otherwise. What’s extraordinary here is not the hard work of the panel, which is what we committed to do in 2015. It’s that the EPA administrator tried to deprive the agency and the public of our science-based recommendations. Our panel shows how the process can and should work.”