Friday, December 23, 2005

A blog worth reading

I have recently come across another blog worth your consideration.

www.desmogblog.com

DeSmogBlog is the brainchild of James Hoggan, one of Canada’s leading corporate public relations consultants, who says he’s mad as hell at the hucksters who are attacking the global consensus on climate change.

"There have been lots of times in the past 20 years when talented PR people have shilled for shady clients, but no case has been more outrageous than the complex, expensive and frighteningly high-quality effort to confuse the public about climate change," Hoggan says. "I think it’s time somebody outed the PR industry. It’s time someone spelled out exactly what’s being done and by whom. This issue is much too important to leave to scoundrels."

http://www.desmogblog.com

Watch EPA try to b-s its way out of bad particle pollution decision

If you haven's seen it, you might be amused -- or saddened -- with how the EPA tried to b-s its way out of its bad particle pollution decision. This is the transcript of the EPA telephone press conference:

http://www.epa.gov/air/particlepollution/pdfs/transcript20051220.pdf

Especially note the first two questions:

Your first question comes from Traci Watson with USA Today.

Traci Watson: Hi. Thanks for taking my question. I’d like to find out how you justify setting standards that are higher than what your own Science Advisory Council recommended?

Stephen Johnson: Good. This is the Administrator. First of all, I looked at all the science with my staff. In fact, I’m told that I spent more time than any other administrator looking at the science on this issue of particulate matter. And I made my decision based upon the best available science.

Now as been pointed out by (Bill) Wehrum, we are taking comments on the divergent views. But I made my decision based upon the best available science.

(Eryn) Witcher: Thank you. Next question.

Operator: Your next question comes from Mike Janofsky with New York Times.

Mike Janofsky: Mr. Administrator, if you made your decision on the best available science, does that mean that the Advisory Committee and also your staff did not have the best available science to make their recommendations?

Stephen Johnson: There’s a lot of factors to consider as pointed out that we certainly appreciate and support the Clean Air Advisory Committee. But again, what I need to consider is, is there a clear basis for - or clear evidence provided for making a decision? And this choice requires judgment, judgment based upon an interpretation of the evidence. And certainly in my mind, an interpretation of the evidence that neither overstates nor understates the strength or the limitations of the evidence. So that’s what I base my decision on.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

EPA puts out industry-friendly proposal on particle pollution

The Bush administration today officially proposed an industry-friendly plan for deadly particle pollution in the air. The U.S. EPA proposed weaker national health standards than recommended by its own outside science advisors. This is the latest chapter in the continuing domination of Bush air pollution policy by the coal-burning electric power industry.

For some interesting background, note the USA Today piece and commentary on tompaine.com at:

http://cleanairarticles.blogspot.com/

Our official reaction is at

http://www.cleanairwatchpressroom.blogspot.com/

Friday, December 16, 2005

As EPA nears particle pollution decision, a new study on heart disease and particle pollution

The timing of the study noted below is rather remarkable. My apologies for a redundant note if you have already seen this study.

As I hope you know by now, the US EPA will make a formal proposal next week on national air quality standards for fine particle pollution. EPA’s own science advisors have called on the agency to make the current standards significantly tighter, based on more recent science which has shown that particle pollution is lethal – even at levels that are currently legal.

We are very concerned that EPA – under lobbying pressure from the electric power industry and other industry lobbies – will offer something less protective of public health than EPA’s own science advisors have recommended.

In particular, the science advisors have recommended that EPA set a more restrictive standard for annual levels of exposure to fine particle pollution. We understand EPA may be balking at this because of political pressure.

Coincidentally, the Journal of the American Medical Association will publish a new study next week which will show that long-term exposure to fine-particle pollution contributes to the hardening and clogging of the arteries.

This new study appears to corroborate our argument that the EPA should set a better standard to limit annual exposure to fine-particle pollution.

**

EMBARGOED For Release Until 4 p.m., Eastern Time, on Tuesday, December 20 Contact: Pam McDonnell Office of Communications & Public Affairs NYU School of Medicine 212-404-3555 Email: Pam.McDonnell@nyumc.org

Researchers Show How Air Pollution Can Cause Heart Disease Animal study reveals tiny particles in the air are even more damaging when coupled with a high-fat diet

New York, December 20, 2005—New York University School of Medicine researchers provide some of the most compelling evidence yet that long-term exposure to air pollution—even at levels within federal standards—causes heart disease. Previous studies have linked air pollution to cardiovascular disease but until now it was poorly understood how pollution damaged the body’s blood vessels.

In a well-designed mouse study, where animals breathed air as polluted as the air in New York City, the researchers pinpointed specific mechanisms and showed that air pollution can be particularly damaging when coupled with a high-fat diet, according to new research published in the December 21 issue of JAMA.

“We established a causal link between air pollution and atherosclerosis,” says Lung Chi Chen, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Environmental Medicine at NYU School of Medicine and a lead author of the study. Atherosclerosis—the hardening, narrowing, and clogging of the arteries—is an important component of cardiovascular disease.

The study, done in collaboration with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and University of Michigan, looked at the effects of airborne particles measuring less than 2.5 microns, referred to as PM2.5, the size linked most strongly with cardiovascular disease. The emissions arise primarily from power plants and vehicle exhaust.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regulated PM2.5 since 1997, limiting each person’s average exposure per year to no more than 15 micrograms per cubic meter. These tiny particles of dust, soot, and smoke lead to an estimated 60,000 premature deaths every year in the United States.

Dr. Chen and his colleagues divided 28 mice, which were genetically prone to developing cardiovascular disease, into two groups eating either normal or high-fat diets. For the next six months, half of the mice in each feeding group breathed doses of either particle-free filtered air or concentrated air containing PM2.5 at levels that averaged out to 15.2 micrograms per cubic meter.

This amount is within the range of annual EPA limits and equivalent to air quality in urban areas such as New York City. The researchers then conducted an array of tests to measure whether the PM2.5 exposure had any impact on the mice’s cardiovascular health. Overall, mice who breathed polluted air fared worse than those inhaling filtered air.

But when coupled with a high-fat diet, the impact of PM2.5 exposure was even more dramatic. The results added up to a clear cause and effect relationship between PM2.5 exposure and atherosclerosis, according to the study. On the whole, mice breathing polluted air had far more plaque than those breathing filtered air. In cross sections taken from the largest artery in the body—the aorta—mice on normal diets and exposed to PM2.5 had arteries 19.2 percent filled with plaque, the fatty deposits that clog arteries.

The arteries of those breathing particle-free air were 13.2 percent obstructed. Among high-fat diet mice, those exposed to PM2.5 had arteries that were 41.5 percent obstructed by plaque, whereas the arteries of the pollution-free mice were 26.2 percent clogged. In both normal and high-fat diet mice, PM2.5 exposure increased cholesterol levels, which are thought to exacerbate plaque buildup.

Though findings for increased plaque among mice eating normal diets were not statistically significant, Dr. Chen believes that future research on larger numbers of animals will solidify the trend. “Even with the low-fat diet, there’s still something there. So that is something to think about,” he says. He suspects that PM2.5 exposure could also greatly affect even people who do not eat high-fat diets.

Mice exposed to PM2.5 also appeared prone to developing high blood pressure, another element of cardiovascular disease, because their arteries had become less elastic. To measure tension in the arteries, the researchers tested how the neurotransmitters serotonin and acetylcholine affected the aortic arches of PM2.5-exposed mice differently than those of controls.

The arteries taken from exposed mice were less elastic than the control group, constricting more in the presence of serotonin and relaxing less in response to acetylcholine. Once again, the mice fed high-fat diets suffered the most pronounced effects from breathing polluted air. Finally, the researchers also examined various measures of vascular inflammation, which is involved in atherosclerosis on a number of levels.

In the aortas of PM2.5–exposed mice, for example, they found increased levels of macrophages, immune cells that are an important ingredient in plaque deposits and also active participants in a biochemical pathway related to inflammation. The study revealed several signs that this pathway was more active, strengthening the connection between airborne particles and cardiovascular disease.

The authors of the new study are: Morton Lippmann, Lung Chi Chen, and Ximei Jin of the NYU School of Medicine’s Nelson Institute of Environmental Medicine, based in Tuxdeo, New York; Qinghua Sun, Alex Natanzon, Juan-Gilberto S. Aguinaldo, Zahi A. Fayad, Valentin Fuster, and Sayjay Rajagopalan of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York; and Robert D. Brook and Damon Duquaine of University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The study was funded by the EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Will EPA Set Weak Particle Pollution Standard?

By Chris Baltimore

WASHINGTON, Dec 14 (Reuters) - The Bush administration must decide by next week whether to change standards limiting tiny particles emitted by power plants and cars, and environmental groups fear the rules won't go far enough to protect public health.

Under a legal settlement reached with environmental groups, the Environmental Protection Agency must reconsider existing standards by Tuesday, Dec. 20, to curb the amount of so-called fine particles.

The emissions are linked to premature deaths from heart and lung disease, chronic bronchitis and asthma.

The EPA could leave existing rules intact, or change the regulations which set daily and annual limits for the particles, which come from a range of sources such as power plants, road dust, burned-out brake shoes and wood smoke.

Environmental groups worry that the EPA will issue a rule that may appear tougher but will fail to require states to take new cleanup actions.

"My concern is that health science will be trumped by political science," said Frank O'Donnell at Clean Air Watch. "Setting a better 24-hour standard alone might look good on paper, but it would be meaningless in the real world."

The EPA declined to comment on details of the plan, which must be finalized by Sept. 27, 2006. It said in a statement that the regulation "will be grounded in the best available science" to protect public health.

Nearly 100 million people in the United States breathe unhealthy amounts of the particles, which are 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Some of the worst emissions occur in big cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Coal-burning electric utilities have lobbied against tougher regulations. Officials from the Edison Electric Institute -- the biggest U.S. utility lobbying group -- met with Bush administration officials on Dec. 1 to discuss the proposal, according to a public record of meeting participants.

A letter sent to EPA administrator Stephen Johnson from 100 health researchers urged the agency to strengthen both the annual and 24-hour standards significantly, and to establish a stringent new 24-hour standard for larger particulate matter.

An EPA advisory panel called for tougher daily and annual standards, and a recent agency study of nine cities indicated 4,700 premature deaths would occur annually even if cities meet current standards.

Monday, December 12, 2005

State agencies rally to defend right to protect citizens from dirty air

STATE AND TERRITORIAL AIR POLLUTION PROGRAM ADMINISTRATORS/
ASSOCIATION OF LOCAL AIR POLLUTION CONTROL OFFICIALS

NEWS ADVISORY

STATES, LOCALITIES RALLY TO DEFEND
RIGHT TO PROTECT CITIZENS FROM DIRTY AIR

It’s bringing cleaner air from coast to coast: A well-reasoned and time-honored legal
authority that permits states to improve on federal mobile source pollution standards in
order to protect their citizens from dirty air.

But now a smoky cloud looms on the horizon.

Special interests, including car companies and diesel engine makers, want to take away
the right of state and local governments to protect their citizens. And they have been
urging the National Research Council, which is preparing to issue a report on states’
rights, to recommend doing so.

We want to tell you our side of the story: Why it would be a terrible mistake to interfere
with the right of state and local governments.

Please join us for a December 13 teleconference briefing, as state authorities explain
today’s system, why it has worked so well, and the nature of the potential threat.

Who: State Officials from California, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts,
Oklahoma, Oregon, North Carolina and Washington

S. William Becker, Executive Director of STAPPA and ALAPCO

When: Tuesday December 13, 2005

12:30 p.m. EST/9:30 a.m. Pacific time

Friday, December 09, 2005

NASCAR Update

An excellent piece today in the Bremerton (WA) Sun about a new EPA study which warns about the potential health problems from NASCAR's continued use of leaded gasoline.

Despite issuing repeated warnings, EPA still is not monitoring to see how serious the problem is -- if serious at all.

The article is at http://www.kitsapsun.com/bsun/local/article/0,2403,BSUN_19088_4302173,00.html

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Power polluters mad at Bush cronies, and more...

December promises to be an unusually interesting month on the air pollution beat, even for those of us who are not in Montreal for the global warming talks. Heck, I bet there will even be some news!

So here’s a quick roundup of some highlights:

Vitriolic Voltage: For most of the past five years, the leadership of the Edison Electric Institute (the electric power industry lobby) has been in cahoots with the Bush administration when it comes to shaping a lenient federal policy towards coal-burning power plants. (The fact that EEI head Tom Kuhn was a college chum of President Bush and has been a big Bush political fund-raiser may have something to do with this.)

But now the sparks are flying at EEI hq. The power lobbyists are enraged because of an EPA analysis which showed that the modest global warming limits of legislation championed by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) could be met at minimal cost. (Needless to say, the same EPA analysis undercuts the embarrassing, do-nothing position the U.S. government is taking this week at the global warming talks in Montreal.) EEI is circulating a “critique” of the EPA analysis, including ham-fisted claims that EPA was “unrealistic” about cleanup costs.

But the power polluters are also challenging the very idea that cleaning up their witch’s brew of emissions would bring public health benefits, and they have turned this “critique” into a frontal assault on EPA’s ongoing review of public health standards for fine-particle pollution. (See more on this, below.) “EPA ignores the great uncertainty regarding which particles, if any, actually cause premature mortality,” charges EEI. “The relative exposure risk varies greatly among types of particles and implementation of the new standards without considering the actual health benefits of different sources and particles may yield no benefits…. It is unclear at this time whether there are any benefits for avoided premature mortality related to sulfate and nitrate particles…” If there is a problem, according to EEI, it’s because of “vehicular traffic.” (See more on that, below.)

Deadline Looming: As noted above, EPA is reviewing the existing public health standards for fine-particle pollution. The agency is under a court agreement to issue a proposal by December 20 on whether the current standards are adequate. EPA’s career scientists as well as the agency’s outside science advisors have all concluded – contrary to EEI’s assertions -- that the existing standards (set in 1997 but only now being put into place) do not protect people from such public health threats as dropping dead early. We are monitoring this issue VERY closely and will have more to say as we grow closer to the deadline.

Please be on the alert: this is probably the single biggest decision that the EPA will make regarding air pollution during the next few years. Now that EEI has shown its hand, the main question is this: will the EPA be influenced by political science instead of health science? Stay tuned.

Car curb? Another item to keep an eye out for is an upcoming National Academy of Sciences report on moving sources of pollution like cars and trucks. A quick history: polluters convinced one of their Senate darlings, Kit Bond (R-MO) to demand an academy study of the issue – and, specifically, to examine the existing practice of permitting California to set better-than-federal standards for most moving sources of pollution, and to permit other states to adopt the California standards. We don’t know what the academy will recommend, but we do know that the car companies and diesel engine makers have argued strenuously for limits on states’ rights. (Apparently they don’t agree with the power industry lobbyists that “vehicular traffic” poses an ongoing pollution problem!)

Toxic alarm: As many of you know, the Bush administration is trying to change the rules for the so-called Toxic Release Inventory. Under the Bush plan, polluters wouldn’t have to report their toxic emissions and other discharges as often. This has been one of the most effective environmental cleanup tools out there. A lot of “first responders” and others are understandably alarmed at this new attempt to cut a break for industry, which got little publicity when it first was rolled out. PIRG groups today are releasing localized reports on the implications, and our friends at National Environmental Trust are coordinating a media phone briefing starting today at 12:30 pm EST. Call Tony Iallonardo for information at 202-887-8855.