“PM2.5” is the abbreviation for “Particulate Matter, 2.5 micrometers or less”. PM2.5 particles are air-pollutant particles having a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less –– i.e. small enough to invade even the smallest airways of the human lung. In the spirit of “balanced and fair” reporting –– the first article below (by Rob Stein from NPR) summarizes the N Engl J Med paper published today, June 29, 2017, whereas the second article below (published at junksciece.com also today by the epidemiologist James Enstrom) refutes the “science” that was performed in order to make such conclusions.
This topic is reminiscent of the “catastrophic anthropogenic global warming” (CAGW) topic in that –– “one side” is composed principally of political scientists and journalists with little knowledge of The Scientific Method, whereas the “other side” comprises scientists who rely upon The Scientific Method and therefore warn against government policies based on incorrectly-performed science, which often results in legislation/regulations that can become very expensive to the taxpayer. So, the choice is between Politics & hysteria versus Science & data. Take your pick –– at either extreme, or somewhere intermediate between the two.
P.S. For those who wish to know EXACTLY what is The Scientific Method –– please see:
https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_scientific_method.shtml for a very thorough and accurate discussion.
U.S. Air Pollution Still Kills Thousands Every Year, Study Concludes
June 28, 2017
Heard on “All Things Considered”
The air Americans breathe has been getting cleaner for decades.
But air pollution is still killing thousands in the U.S. every year, even at the levels allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a study out Wednesday.
“We are now providing bullet-proof evidence that we are breathing harmful air,” says Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatistics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who led the study. “Our air is contaminated.”
Dominici and her colleagues set out to do the most comprehensive study to date assessing the toll that air pollution takes on American lives. The researchers used data from federal air monitoring stations as well as satellites to compile a detailed picture of air pollution down to individual zip codes. They then analyzed the impact of very low levels of air pollution on mortality, using data from 60 million Medicare patients from 2000 to 2012.
About 12,000 lives could be saved each year, their analysis concludes, by cutting the level of fine particulate matter nationwide by just 1 microgram per cubic meter of air below current standards. “It’s very strong, compelling evidence that currently, the safety standards are not safe enough,” Dominici says.
Fine particulate matter — basically, tiny particles of dust and soot — appears to be especially dangerous for African-Americans, men and poor people, the researchers found. Compared to the general population, African-Americans are about three times as likely to die from exposure to it, the researchers found. The study did not examine why that would be the case, but Dominici has some theories.
“People of color tend to be sicker and more affected [by] disease,” she says, pointing out that they also tend to live in places with more pollution and have less access to health care.
Taken together, she says, the results indicate that more should be done to push air pollution levels as low as possible. “I think it is the responsibility of the government to make sure that our air is clean,” she says.
Scott Segal, a Washington lawyer who works for the energy industry and has advised the current White House administration, argues the study is flawed. And he says that cutting air pollution even further would come with big costs. “When we have very expensive environmental rules, they in and of themselves can adversely affect public health” by increasing the cost of medical care, suppressing economic growth, and siphoning off resources from more serious health threats, Segal says.
But Jeffrey Drazen, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, defended the research in an editorial accompanying the study. “What these data are telling us is that even with our current standards, if we cleaned up the air more, we could save lives,” Drazen says. “Anything that we did that pushed things in the opposite direction — that gave us dirtier air — not only would be unpleasant, it’s going to kill a lot of people.”
Epidemiologist Enstrom takes down new NEJM PM2.5 junk science
“The authors have falsified their research findings.”
June 29, 2017 NEJM article “Air Pollution and Mortality in the Medicare Population”
By James E. Enstrom, Ph.D., M.P.H.
June 28, 2017
1. The authors have falsified existing research findings. Coauthor Dominici failed to cite key findings from her own prior publication on this cohort: December 2008 EHP article “Mortality in the Medicare Population and Chronic Exposure to Fine Particulate Air Pollution in Urban Centers (2000–2005)” by Scott L. Zeger, Francesca Dominici, Aidan McDermott, and Jonathan M. Samet.
Examples of falsification are described below.
Table 3 of the EHP article shows large unexplained geographic variation in PM2.5 mortality risk in the Eastern, Central, and Western portions of the US and this variation is not addressed in the NEJM article. The total US age-adjusted RR was 1.091 (1.076-1.107), whereas the total US age-SES-COPD-adjusted RR was only 1.044 (1.032-1.057). The total US RR in the Medicare cohort may be NULL if it is fully and properly adjusted to account for sex, race, cigarette smoking, and education level. There was NO relationship in the Western US (mainly CA) in any case. These severe limitations on the Medicare findings must be fully acknowledged in the NEJM article.
The geographic variation in RR from the EHP Table 3 is shown below.
The authors failed to properly cite two major national cohorts that found NO relationship between PM2.5 and total mortality: Thurston 2016 and Enstrom 2017.
· April 2016 Thurston EHP article: 517,041 subjects in 6 states and 2 cities in NIH-AARP cohort found RR ~ 1.025 (1.000-1.049) during 2000-2009. Proper conclusion: NO PM2.5-total mortality relationship in US.
· March 2017 Enstrom Dose-Response article: 269,766 subjects in 85 Counties in ACS CPS II cohort reanalysis found RR = 1.023 (0.997-1049) during 1982-1988. Conclusion: NO PM2.5-total mortality relationship in US.
2. The authors have violated epidemiologic standards and limitations. Although this entire article involves air pollution epidemiology, none of the authors has any formal training in epidemiology, such as, a Ph.D. or M.P.H. in epidemiology. The Ph.D. degrees are in physics, statistics, and environmental chemistry. These facts are relevant because 1) this entire article ignores the standards and limitations of epidemiology, particularly the criteria necessary to establish a causal relationship and 2) the authors are clearly advocating for tighter pollution (PM2.5 and ozone) regulations in the US. They inserted advocacy sentences, such as, “In the entire Medicare population, there was significant evidence of adverse effects related to exposure to PM2.5 and ozone at concentrations below current national standards.” and “These findings suggest that lowering the annual NAAQS0 may produce important public health benefits . . . .” Their press release is almost pure advocacy for tighter regulations.
The senior authors (Schwartz, Dominici, Zanobetti, and Koutrakis, in that order) are well aware that tighter regulations in the US are scientifically and socioeconomically unjustified and will harm primarily blue collar workers throughout the US, particularly in California and the Rust Belt. They further know that air pollution regulations are badly needed in other countries like China and India, not in the US.
3. U.S. air is clean and safe. Evidence from the new WHO Report that PM2.5 in the U.S. is at record low levels (about 9 micrograms per cubic meter nationally) and that the U.S. is one of the cleanest countries in the world (http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/06/05/who-united-states-among-least-polluting-nations-on-the-planet/). The focus on air pollution health effects and regulations needs to be in those counties where it is still a major problem, such as, China, India, and Africa. See WHO Map below for PM2.5. The air pollution in the U.S. is now at healthy levels and must be put in context with other factors that affect our health and economics.
4. Contradictory studies ignored. NEJM Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Drazan, who coauthored the alarmist NEJM editorial, “Air Pollution Still Kills,” has a strong, long-running bias in favor of positive PM2.5 and mortality studies and against NULL PM2.5 and mortality studies. This bias, dating back at least to 2004, is documented in Reference 27 of Enstrom’s Dose-Response article. Enstrom’s NULL 2005 and 2017 articles were rejected by NEJM, as were numerous letters criticizing NEJM articles on air pollution and mortality.
5. Free the data — no secret science. The authors must immediately make their underlying data, properly redacted, available for independent reanalysis. The authors received essentially all their funding from the US taxpayers via EPA, NIH, and HEI. Furthermore, the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health is well aware of the 2013 House Science Committee Subpoena, the 2014 and 2015 Secret Science Reform Acts, and the 2017 HONEST Act. Harvard authors must comply with the spirit of these Bills if they want to retain credibility.
World Health Organization: Global ambient air pollution
Annual mean ambient PM2.5 (µg/m3). [Source: http://maps.who.int/airpollution/]