Archive for the ‘EPA’ Category

Air pollution science under siege

Top EPA adviser attacks the agency for making decisions before major review of air pollution standards is completed.

Jeff Tollefson

28 MARCH 2019

A quarter of a century of research has shown that breathing in fine airborne particles emitted by cars, power plants and other sources shortens people’s lifespans. But that scientific consensus is now under attack from a top adviser to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), just as the agency is rushing to revise the national air-quality standard for such pollution before the end of President Donald Trump’s first term. Scientists fear that the result could be weaker rules on air pollution that are bad for public health — and based on politics, not science.

The US EPA is reviewing its standard for fine-particle pollution

The national air quality standards are designed to limit the amount of six widespread pollutants — including airborne particles and ozone — that are present in the air that people breathe. State and local governments must develop plans to curb pollution in areas that do not meet the standards. The EPA must review the science, and if necessary, revise the standard for each pollutant every five years, though in practice the process often takes longer.

The current review started in 2015, and various delays pushed the deadline back to 2022. But former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced early last year that the agency would push to complete its review and revision by December 2020. In order to meet that deadline, the EPA will have to curtail their normal review and revision process. In October 2018, the agency also dismantled a scientific advisory panel that works in parallel with the agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), which advises officials on air-quality standards.

The latest development came on 28 March, when CASAC met to discuss a draft letter they had released several weeks earlier, which blasted agency scientists for relying on “subjective judgments” and “unverifiable opinions” in their evaluation of particulate pollution research. The head of CASAC, Tony Cox, is a statistician who has long questioned the evidence linking fine particulate pollution to premature deaths, and the draft letter reflects this scepticism.

The draft letter called on the EPA to do another research assessment looking at the uncertainties and inconsistencies in the scientific literature on air pollution. It said that the agency should include all relevant studies, including some authored by Cox, some of which were funded by industry groups.

The full committee removed much of the most controversial language during their 28 March meeting. But CASAC members remained divided on the link between fine particle pollution and premature death. The final text of the letter will reflect that division.

Nevertheless, the debate between CASAC members over the link between particulate pollution and public health has alarmed agency scientists, academics and environmental groups.

“They are just completely dismissing the science,” says Gretchen Goldman, an environmental engineer in Washington DC who tracks the issue for the Union of Concerned Scientists. She co-wrote a guest editorial1published on 21 March in Science urging the EPA not to abandon the scientific evidence on air pollution. “Without independent science, we risk having public-health decisions made for political reasons,” she says.

The benefits of preventing premature deaths from particulate pollution are also baked into other air pollution regulations, such as those targeting mercury and greenhouse gases. So downplaying the public-health impacts of particle pollution could help the Trump administration to roll back an array of environmental regulations, says Goldman.

Burden of proof

Cox defended his views in an email to Nature. The EPA process for reviewing air-quality standards is focused on “eliciting, synthesizing, and documenting the opinions and judgments” of the agency’s own scientists, which are often based on “ambiguous statistical associations that depended on unverified models and assumptions”, he said. His own research has raised questions about the link between reducing fine-particle pollution and saving lives.

But there is mounting evidence, compiled by a wide range of scientists from around the world, that links pollution to higher death rates. In a 2017 study2 of almost 61 million people, for instance, researchers at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used satellite data and computer models to map out daily pollution levels on a 1-kilometre grid across the United States for 12 years. After controlling for factors including education and income, the scientists found that death rates increased in regions with more fine-particulate pollution and higher levels of ozone, a major component of smog — even if those areas met air-quality standards.

If anything, those results suggest that the national standard should be stricter than it is now, says Francesca Dominici, a biostatistician at Harvard University and a co-author of the 2017 study, as well as the Science editorial. But she stresses that her study is just one among many that have documented the public-health impacts from particulate pollution. “It’s about the whole body of evidence,” Dominici says.

Cory Zigler, a biostatistician at the University of Texas, Austin, says that Cox has effectively declared his own statistical methods king, writing off a variety of studies and methods demonstrating the link between air pollution and public health.

Cox says he is well aware of such criticisms and that he is only following the science where it leads, regardless of political consequences. “My sole motivation and commitment is to uphold and apply good science,” he told Nature.

Compressed timeline

The EPA’s recently confirmed administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is continuing the push to review and revise the particulate pollution standard by late 2020. But meeting the abbreviated deadline will be nearly impossible without damaging the integrity of the scientific review process, particularly in light of the delays caused by the government shutdown that ended in January, says an EPA official who is familiar with the process and who requested anonymity because they aren’t authorized to talk to the press.

Wheeler has also drawn criticism for disbanding the scientific review panel last October, which normally works in parallel with CASAC. The current CASAC members — all of whom were appointed after Trump took office — lack the scientific expertise in epidemiology and other fields to properly evaluate the EPA’s work on air-quality standards, says Christopher Frey, an environmental engineer at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Frey formerly chaired CASAC and was on the scientific review panel that Wheeler dissolved in October 2018.

Cox and other CASAC members have publicly acknowledged this criticism and say that they need access to additional experts. During the 28 March meeting, the committee revised its draft letter to include a request for the EPA to either reinstate the previous review panel or create a new one.

Frey adds that the normal process for assessing the science has been repeatedly reviewed and approved by CASAC, and that every prior assessment has confirmed the link between particulate pollution and death rates. “That finding is one of the most robust scientific findings in air-pollution health,” Frey says.

There is some difference of opinion within CASAC. Although the recent draft letter is highly critical of the EPA, individual comments submitted by some panel members, and included with the draft letter, were more supportive of the agency’s science assessment on particulate pollution. And three of the seven members called for the disbanded review panel to be reinstated.

What happens next is unclear. Normally, the EPA would revise its evaluation of the scientific research on the pollutant in question after input from CASAC and the larger scientific advisory panel. Then it would conduct an assessment focused on health risks and exposure trends. If the EPA found that an update to the standard was justified, it would then formally proposes a change. But many scientists and environmentalists expect the EPA will try to consolidate these steps in order to finalize a new standard next year.

To read Jeff Tollefson full article click here.

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Statistically Speaking – the EPA’s math doesn’t add up

Statistically Speaking

40% of the Community of Northport is sick with similar health issues. Yet, the EPA says, based on their research, the towns health issues cannot be linked to the Canadian smelter located 12 miles upriver from the town

 

by: Jamie Paparich

 

The EPA held a meeting to discuss their Human Health Risk Assessment of the 315 residents of Northport, Washington. There were 55 residents in the high school cafeteria that night, or 17.46% of the community, to hear why the EPA is certain that the communities’ chronic exposure to air pollution and slag emissions from Teck Resources, a Canadian smelter located 12 miles upriver, has nothing to do with their cluster of rare, similar health issues.

The 55 residents that attended the EPA meeting are part of a total of  383 past and present Northport residents who completed a  2011 health surveyAll  383 of these past and present residents, spanning 3 generations, have similar health issues.    That is  40% of 3 generations of Northport residents.

 

From a Statistical Perspective

Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease:

  • Annually approximately 2–14 people out of 100,000 are diagnosed with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s in the United States – or:  .006
  • 54 past and present Northport residents, spanning 3 generations, have been diagnosed with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis – or:   7%
  • Of the 315 current residents 19 people have been diagnosed –  or:   6%

 Multiple sclerosis (MS):

  • Annually approx. 10,400 people are diagnosed with MS in the United States – or:   .003%. 
  • 32 past and present Northport residents, spanning 3 generations, have been diagnosed with MS – or:   4%

Brain Tumors/Cancers:

  • Annually approx. 23,880 people are diagnosed with Brain Tumors in the United States – or:   .007% 
  • 19 past and present Northport residents, spanning 3 generations, have been diagnosed with/or died from a brain tumor – or:   49.7%

Teck’s Legacy:

  • From 1921–2005 Teck released 63,578 tons of heavy metal toxins (arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead) through their air emissions. 
  • From 1906–1995 Teck released 58,611,000 tons of slag into the Columbia river, the equivalent of a dump truck emptying 19 tons of slag every hour, every day, for 60 years.
  • Between 1994–1997 Teck’s discharges of arsenic, cadmium and lead equal MORE than the discharges of ALL the lead and zinc smelters COMBINED through-out the United States.
  • For Teck Smelter’s Timeline of Pollution read;  A Century of Evidence

 

Yet the EPA stood in front of those 55 people in the school cafeteria that night and tried to make them believe, statistically and scientifically, that their chronic exposure to heavy metal toxins from Teck Resources, and that of their family and friends, had nothing to do with 40% of their community being sick. Or at least, that is what their Human Health Risk Assessment will conclude….based on their statistic.

 

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“The Beginning of the End of the World”

The article below, “The Beginning of the End of the World”, was adapted from “Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America”.  It is an amazing, heartbreaking, and terrifying article.  It is a bit long, but I hope you will take the time to read it.  The story of Buzz and his family is a very familiar story to some of us, as is the conclusion of their story.  The mining, smelting and fracking industries are necessary.  I am from a family who has been in mining for three generations.  The jobs these industries provide are necessary and priceless to small communities, but so are our lives and the lives of those we love… and our land, which to many of us represent where we came from and who we are.  There is a safe and responsible way to run these companies.  However, many are not willing to spend the extra time and, ultimately, money to do it the safe way.  They don’t have to because the regulatory agencies are worse than the companies not meeting their regulations.  I have witnessed first-hand how the EPA will twist and construe the scientific truth of a study to hide the danger a community is in from the pollution of a powerful company, from a Goliath.  The truth is these companies are bigger than Goliath….as Grace, Buzz’s mom in the article below, points out; they are bigger than God.  They are knowingly creating “the beginning of the end of the world”… and our Government Agencies, created to protect us, are helping them.

Click here to read “The Beginning of the End of the World” by Eliza Griswold.

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EPA won’t help Northport, leaving towns fate in the hands of the State of WA

(By Colin Haffner/Chewelah Independent)

Agency feels risk from outdoor air in Northport is low…

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has denied a request to restart air quality testing downwind of one of the world’s largest lead and zinc smelters and refineries in Canada. This leaves the State of Washington in search of financing to conduct the testing on its own, according to The Spokesman Review.

Teck Resources Ltd., located in Trail, British Columbia, is situated just 20 miles north of Northport, WA, and per the Spokesman’s May 5 article, more than 100 local residents filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency to install air monitors between the town and the Canadian border.

The petition was sent last December. Signers of the petition, including residents, the Northport Project and citizens for a Clean Columbia (CCC) are asking for three long -term air monitors in and around Northport in order to help address concerns over health related issues experienced by residents.

Jamie Paparich is one of the key organizers behind the Northport Project. In an April article run by the Chewelah Independent, Paparich told the publication, “Residents believe that the air is the culprit behind the many health clusters in our small community. Studies have been conducted showing chronic exposure to elevated ambient arsenic and cadmium causes damage to the immune system and gastrointestinal tract. All of our health issues are auto immune related, and the biggest health cluster of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease is linked directly to the gastrointestinal tract. A study Harvard conducted of our community showed cases of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s to be diagnosed 11.5 to 18 times higher in Northport than anywhere else in the County. Residents continue to be diagnosed. I know of two residents who have been already diagnosed this year.”

Concern of the effects from the Teck smelter on human health has been ongoing for many years. Monitoring by the state in the 1990s showed arsenic and cadmium levels were well beyond acceptable safety standards.

In 2016, the Colville Confederated Tribes won an $8.25 million lawsuit against Teck after the company admitted dumping nearly 10 million tons of slag into the Columbia River between 1930 and 1995.

Recent state models show that the smelter could be sending the highest known airborne levels of arsenic and lead over the border into Washington, Oregon and Idaho, The Spokesman stated.

Monitoring is estimated to cost the State Department of Ecology about $300,000. Brook Beeler, an ecology spokeswoman, said they will look into raising the funds through grants or other agency funding, according to the Spokesman.

The state models were based off six years of data from 2009 to 2014 using the British Columbia government’s projections of heavy metal levels crossing the border.

2009 was the last time air quality was monitored on the Washington side of the border.

Since the mid-1990s, Teck has spent over $1.5 billion on improvements to their smelter, the Spokesman stated, reducing emissions by more than 99 percent, according to Chris Stannell, a spokesman for Teck. Stannell contends the smelter already follows many pollution controls required by the Canadian government, and there are air quality stations situated just 7km (4.35 miles) from the Washington-Canadian border.

Stannell noted to the Independent in April, “air quality is monitored 24 hours a day for metals (including lead) and sulphur dioxide at a variety of locations throughout the Trail area and the operation is in full compliance with all provincial and federal regulations relating to air emissions.”

In the Spokesman article, it was stated that data showed that the average levels of lead and arsenic were many times higher than the next highest reading in the Northwest which was taken in Seattle’s industrial area. The heavy metals in those emissions could pose an increase in serious long-term health risks such as cancer, though short-term effects pose little risk.

Despite all the data, EPA officials do not believe additional monitoring is needed. “From our evaluation of data collected in 1999 to 2009, we believe that the risk to you from the outdoor air in Northport is low,” Cami Grandinetti, a manager in the EPA’s remedial cleanup program, wrote in an April letter and went on to state with additional improvements at the smelter, “we expect current day operations to be even lower,” the Spokesman said.

Ecology offers hope to Northport, as EPA continues to deny cluster of health issues

Listen to the Spokane Public Radio news story live by clicking here.

EPA Won’t Test Air in Northport, WA—Despite Potential Danger to Residents

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My Questions to the EPA

The EPA recently explained to the community of Northport, WA, based on the EPA’s analysis of existing data they have decided not to conduct additional air monitoring in our area.

After analyzing the existing data, the EPA concluded;

  • For arsenic, the air concentration is 0.0042 ug/m3.  Although this level is higher than safety standards they felt that it would only correspond to a cancer risk of 2 in 100,000.  So, the community should be “safe”.
  • For cadmium, the air concentration is .00136 ug/m3. Although this level is also higher than safety standards they felt that it would only correspond to a cancer risk of 2 in 1 million people. So, once again, we are “safe”.

The existing data the EPA analyzed is the following:

  • All 4 Air Monitoring Studies conducted by Ecology in Northport between 1992 – 1998.
    • All four concluded that our levels of arsenic (.02ug/m3) were 100 times the safety standard and our levels of cadmium (.04) were 18 times higher than safety standards.
  • Air Data measured at a monitoring station Teck Smelter operated near Northport from 1999 – 2009.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

In 2017 The Department of Ecology conducted a preliminary review and evaluation of past air quality monitoring data from our area and consideration of potential present-day health risks. (So basically, they analyzed the same data the EPA claims to have reviewed). When Ecology realized a very important gap of data to accurately evaluate our situation they conducted an air modeling algorithm to get a more specific idea of the actual concentrations of the toxins in our air.

After analyzing the existing date Ecology concluded;

  • Some quality assurance and uncertainty issues arose in Teck’s air monitoring and reporting. Some anomalies were noted when comparing variations in PM emissions that do not correspond to variations in As, Cd, Pb, and Zn emissions. Meaning the accuracy of the emissions being reported and recorded should be called into question.
  • Another issue was the quantitation limit for sampling Arsenic was measured in a bucket of 0.01 ug/m3 to 0.39 ug/m3. Meaning any levels that fell into this category were reported as a .01 ug/m3 in concentration.  When in reality over 40% of those samples were actually closer to 0.39 ug/m3 . That means 40% of the samples had concentrations recorded as .01 when in reality those samples could have been as high as 0.39.  That would mean the actual concentration of arsenic in our air (on average) would be 0.152 ug/m3.
    • Per the EPA guidelines; if the toxin exceeds the Acceptable Source Impact Level (ASIL) it is evaluated as a risk, and additional analysis is needed, especially if the toxin falls within the Risk-Based Concentration (RBC) levels.  The ASIL for arsenic emissions is .0023ug/m3, and the RBC is .0023 ug/m3.
    • The EPA is claiming the concentration of arsenic in Northport is .0042 ug/m3. Under the EPA’s ASIL and RBC levels they would be required to gather “additional analysis” (AIR MONITORING) on the situation.  Worse yet, based on Ecology’s assessment of the data the EPA reviewed the concentration of arsenic in Northport is much more likely to be close to 0.152 ug/m3.  This is a very dangerous level to be chronically exposed to.  I think the results of our health studies (see below) are proof enough of that.
  • Due to the lack of monitors in the areas upriver from Northport to the border, and therefore the lack of data, Ecology applied a smoothing algorithm to mean concentration estimates as functions of time and downriver distance to estimate average As, Cd, and Pb concentrations.
  • The results of this algorithm concluded that between 2009 – 2014 the average level of arsenic in our air was .02 ug/m3. This is similar to the results of the other air monitoring studies done in our area in the past, and not by Teck. .02 ug/m3 is 100 times the recommended safety level.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Results from the 2012 Northport Community Health Survey

  • 18 people, in a population of 315, had been diagnosed with cancer.  (This seems to blow EPA’s theory of the toxins we are exposed to will only correspond to a cancer risk of 2 in 100,000.)
  • 17 residents had been diagnosed with either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s. 17 residents out of a community of 315.  Nationwide approximately 7 people out of 100,000 are diagnosed with UC or Crohn’s annually.
  • 23 residents had been diagnosed with either a brain aneurism or tumors.
  • 13 residents had been diagnosed with either Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis.

Since the 2012 Community Health Survey the health issues have not stopped

  • 8 more residents were diagnosed with cancer
  • 4 more residents have been diagnosed with UC or Crohn’s
  • 3 more residents have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and 1 more resident has been diagnosed with Multiple Scoliosis
In a community with a population of approximately 315 people.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

EPA also informed us after their analysis of existing data that the air data is sufficient to conduct the human health risk assessment for our area.  They stated, The EPA believes that our evaluation of the potential risk to people from outdoor air, using existing air data, is technically sound.”

My Questions to the EPA:

  • Even if our air concentration for arsenic is 0.0042 ug/m3, as Teck stated, that still exceeds the ASIL and should be evaluated as a risk, and additional analysis (AIR MONITORING) is needed, especially if the toxin falls within the Risk-Based Concentration (RBC) levels.
  • Based on Ecology’s findings, what if our air concentration for arsenic is .02ug/m3, or even 0.152 ug/m3, if Ecology’s concern of quantitation limitation on Teck’s sampling is correct?  Our arsenic and cadmium concentrations are already over the safety standards. Scientific data shows that it is very likely those concentrations are significantly higher than the EPA believes.
  • Why did you not evaluate the findings and concerns Ecology advised you of?
  • How did the EPA and The Department of Ecology reach such different conclusions based on the same information?
  • Why are so many residents in our community continuing to get sick if what the EPA is saying is true?
  • How do you plan on conducting a Human Health Risk Assessment based on this lacking, and possibly incorrect data?

The EPA had a choice.  You could have listened to the over 100 Northport residents who signed a petition asking for your help, you could have taken the recommendations of The Department of Ecology and The Tri-County Health Department to conduct a long term, multiple location air monitoring program in our area.  Instead you used limited, inaccurate, outdated data from Teck’s air monitor to conclude no additional air monitoring is needed. This means the HHRA the EPA conducts will be dangerously  inaccurate before it is even began. Do us a favor and don’t waste your time.  The HHRA will ensure we are safe, just as you are telling us we are safe now. I hope you have reason to come visit us five or ten years from now.  You can look around this very room, full of some of the same people that are here today, and explain to them why you left us in danger.  Why you not only told us we were safe, but refused us any sort of assistance to ensure we are safe….again.  The EPA stood where you are now in 1992, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011, 2015, 2017 and now 2018.  Would you like to know how many people have either gotten sick or died from similar health issues in those 26 years?

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