Asthma Justification for EPA Regulations Gutted by the Latest Science

fightingforairI am not surprised that the latest science blames asthma problems on indoor rather than outdoor pollution. I complained of the questionable asthma science behind the American Lung Association ad, Red Carriage Advertisement III, in 2011. According to Cato,  Asthma Justification for EPA Regulations Gutted by the Latest Science, a recent scientific paper in the Journal of Asthma and Clinical Immunology says somewhat cryptically:

Taking the United States as a whole, living in an urban neighborhood is not associated with increased asthma prevalence.

Cato then defers to Dr. Joseph Perrone, chief science officer at the Center for Accountability in Science, to explain why this research is important to the Clean Air Standards in this article on The Hill:

It’s a radical finding. The study upends more than half a century of research that assumed outdoor air pollution in cities was to blame for higher asthma rates—a hypothesis repeatedly used by EPA regulators to justify the agency’s regulations.

For years, environmentalists and regulators have cited childhood asthma as an excuse for ever-stricter pollution rules. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for instance, uses asthma as a pretext for nearly every “clean air” regulation issued since the 1970s.

But what if the assumed link between air pollution and childhood asthma doesn’t actually exist?

New research questions the long-held wisdom on asthma and air pollution, casting doubt over the scientific basis for EPA’s expansive regulatory agenda….

The study still points to air pollution as a cause for asthma, only it’s indoor air pollution—think second hand smoke, rodents, mold, etc.—that may be the main culprit.

In The New Economy Are Low-paid Jobs An Improvement?

vpplogo_resizeA couple of days ago Marc Andressen said in a Business Insider interview that in the new economy “even low-paid jobs — is an improvement”. Here is the entire quote.

“The old farming jobs were f–king terrible jobs. I mean, farmers wake up at 6 in the morning and work 14-hour days. Industrial jobs — people would get killed in these factories all the time. Coal miners — people are trying to protect coal-mining jobs. They’re terrible, terrible jobs … In developing countries, everybody’s dying to get into modern factory jobs, because the alternative is far worse.”

Back in the 1980s and 1990s I worked at a chemical plant near Houston. During my 15+ years at the plan we had one on the job injury. Our safety record was good enough that we applied and was accepted as an OSHA Star site. I know. I was on the committee. I know the slogans and I really do believe that companies really mean it when they say “we like you just the way you are!” A safe workplace is good for the company’s bottom line and both management and the employees are happy! While I was on the committee I knew the injury statistics for various industries.  In the 1980s chemical workers and coal miners were not on the top ten list. Since it has been a few years since I looked at the numbers, I did a little research to see if anything had changed. Here is the list from a recent Forbes article, America’s 10 Deadliest Jobs.

1. Logging workers
2. Fishers and related fishing workers
3. Aircraft pilot and flight engineers
4. Roofers
5. Structural iron and steel workers
6. Refuse and recyclable material collectors
7. Electrical power-line installers and repairers
8. Drivers/sales workers and truck drivers
9. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers
10. Construction laborers

Yup, the list is pretty much as I remember. Industrial jobs did not make the list either. Mr. Andressen was 0 for 2 in job safety predictions. Our country learned a lot of bitter lessons improving mine safety since 1900s and the unions and coal companies are proud of their progress. The same can be said for industrial jobs, too.

I am kind of surprised Mr. Andressen did not crank up his favorite browser and check the safety and salary information for coal mining before he spoke.  If he did he would find that the average coal miner salary in 2013 was $82,058 while the average U.S. worker got $49,700. According to the Glassdoor the average hourly wage for a Starbucks Barista is $9.32 per hour or about $18,640 a year if they work full time for 50 weeks. When you look at the safety record and the salary, I think it is pretty obvious why coal miners want to hold on to their jobs. These “new economy” jobs are jobs you take while you are look for a real job.

Half of the particulate pollution in North America comes from other continents

According to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, University of Maryland at Baltimore County and the Universities Space Research Association:

Roughly half the aerosols that affect air quality and climate change in North America may be coming from other continents, including Asia, Africa and Europe, according to a new study.

Most of the pollution migrating into the North American atmosphere is not industrial emissions but dust from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, , Yu found. Out of the total annual accumulation of foreign aerosols, 87.5 percent is dust from across the Pacific, 6.25 percent is composed of combustion aerosols from the same region and 6.25 percent is Saharan dust from across the Atlantic.

Although they did not discuss the ratio of dust to combustion aerosols from North America, I would not be surprised if the ratio was even larger for particulate pollution in North America. In a previous post, The Battle over Clean Air Standards, I found it easy to conclude from the EPA site on asthma that combustion aerosols have a weak link to asthma. If dust is the major contributor to our problem with particulates then the regulations on coal plants are a very small part of the solution. Every time I look at the science behind the increased coal plant regulations is I find the argument for stronger regulations is just not there.

Half of the particulate pollution in North America comes from other continents
Wed, 22 Aug 2012 23:07:07 GMT

The EPA’s Mercury Madness –

I was curious how much mercury comes out of compact fluorescent lights since the EPA was so concerned about electrical power plants and my power company was so insistent that I take some free compact fluorescent lights. It sure sounded strange to have my power company begging me to take the lights. The logic being used by the EPA to justify shutting down power plants is particularly perplexing. They seem to believe that I am at a greater exposure risk to mercury coming out of an electrical power plant thirty miles away from me than a broken compact fluorescent light in my living room. It actually gets worse. It is reasonable to assume that most of the non-functioning compact fluorescent lights are ending up in nearby garbage dumps and eventually being carried into our water supply. My inner engineer says this “science” does not pass the laugh test. I did find the AEI-Brookings article referenced in the quote below on the internet,

In a pamphlet extolling the virtues of the looming federal ban on traditional incandescent light bulbs, the EPA says it’s a “myth” that the mercury used in compact fluorescent lights is “dangerous in your home.”

“There’s no evidence,” the brochure says, that “brief exposure to the mercury in a broken bulb presents a health risk to you or your family.” Just air out the room, sweep up the debris into a jar and you’re fine.

Truth is there’s no meaningful health risk from either the bulbs or the power plants. As a 2004 paper published by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution noted, “mercury exposure at current levels is unlikely to be causing harm.”

The EPA’s Mercury Madness –

The Battle over Clean Air Standards

This week an American Lung Association ad, Red Carriage Advertisement III, caught my attention. This ad associates childhood asthma and to the pollution generated by power plants. In my life I have never seen an asthma attack triggered by pollution from a power plant so I am skeptical. Today I decided to check on their allegation. I found that the EPA site has a page on asthma triggers,, and power plant pollution is not one of nine major sources listed on that page. The closet source I could find to power plant pollution was Outdoor Air Pollution so I followed that link. This category includes car exhaust, smoke, road dust, factory emissions, and pollen from plants, crops and weeds. From my limited experience around asthma sufferers, I suspect that power plant pollution would rank third or lower in this category at causing asthma attacks.

To put a face on the problem with pollution politics here is a power plant we go by every time we go to Virginia Tech. Across from the plant is a gas station I have stopped at on several of my trips. This part of my trip is one of the most scenic parts of my trip. The air is clean, the nearby forests are lush, and the water in the New River is cold and fast.  It is no surprise that the gas station is full of hunting and fishing supplies. So where do we draw the line when you cannot see, smell, or taste pollution? Are we trying to fix a problem that does not affect this community? In this rural area there are probably only two sources of good paying jobs, this plant and the chemical plant a few miles away at the Narrows.  I suspect that the closing of this plant will be catastrophic for the community. I doubt that these employees will find jobs nearby. Although this plant is 92 years old, requires updated scrubber technology, and is probably getting their butts kicked by gas powered generators, it is probably still making money for its parent company, AEP. Despite its money making prowess AEP did not find it to be cost effective to install scrubbers or convert the facility over to gas. To make up for the lost generating capacity AEP appears to have decided to install gas powered generators in some place that is not close to Glen Lyn or its employees. The really big problem I have with pollution politics is that closing this plant will increase rates by 15% and the community will not see, smell, or taste any benefits. The air will still be clear, the forests will still be lush, and the New River will still be cold and fast. For these “improvements” they get dramatically higher unemployment. As a country with a variety of complex business and environmental problems, you would think we would be getting better at balancing the needs of the business, environment, and community. At the very least we should be trying to avoid lose-lose decisions like this. Instead it appears that AEP and the folks around Glen Lyn did not have a say in the matter. We seem to have constructed a political system that is particularly adept at making “good” environmental decisions that appear to be lose-lose decisions for businesses and communities. We seem to have lost our way on how to make decisions that balances the needs of most of the people. We may not be able to satisfy everyone but we not even trying to balance the needs of these different groups. The sad part is that when this plant is closed, asthma sufferers will still be suffering from the same old triggers of asthma attacks. Nothing has changed for them!

Appalachian Power customers could see up to a 15 percent increase in monthly bills as a result.

By Laurence Hammack | The Roanoke Times


The Roanoke Times | File 2003

American Electric Power announced today that the Glen Lyn Plant along the New River in Giles County will be closed by Dec. 31, 2014. The plant is one of 11 in seven states to be retired or modified by AEP to meet new regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A coal-burning power plant in Giles County that has spewed carbon emissions for years faces a shutdown to comply with clean-air requirements ”” and consumers are facing the possibility of higher electric bills

AEP announces plan to close coal-burning Giles County power plant –

Ken Blackwell: EPA’s Train Wreck Could Leave Ohio in the Dark


According to analysts, this assault on Ohio’s coal-burning power plants transfers directly into at least 10 plant shutdowns — from North Bend to Beverly — and over 1,000 job losses. According to a report from the United Mine Workers of America, national job losses associated with the closure of EPA-targeted coal units could be significant, amounting to more than 50,000 jobs in the coal, utility and rail industries. With Ohio’s unemployment rate still above 9 percent, the EPA "Train Wreck" would clearly be a major blow to our state.

Ken Blackwell: EPA’s Train Wreck Could Leave Ohio in the Dark

EPA Set to Implement Economically Ruinous Regulations on Power Plants

Here is the comment I made on The Foundry blog to this post, EPA Set to Implement Economically Ruinous Regulations on Power Plants.

I love breathing clean air and seeing clean water, too. One of the best ways is to drive right through the heart of coal country, West Virginia. My son goes to school at Virginia Tech and our route to Blacksburg goes through numerous national parks in east Ohio, West Virginia, and Southwest Virginia. I read that there are many coal mines and electrical generating plants nearby but they are not seen from the road and they definitely do not spoil the air. The one place I get to see a plant is along of my favorite stretches on the route. Nestled next to the New river is an electrical generating power plant quietly doing its job.  Awhile back I stopped at the convenience store next to the plant. Considering the merchandise on display and the people in the store, I think it is fair to say that workers at the plant are passionate about their hunting and fishing. I suspect that both plant management and workers have a vested interest in protecting their local fishing hole. In all of my trips through West Virginia I have yet to see or smell pollution.

So I am confused. How is this supposed to work? We let the EPA create a back door national energy policy that picks winners and losers in the energy market, will likely raise electrical prices, shut down plants, and put people out of work. The EPA was created to be an antagonist to business for some real environmental concerns. Now it appears their mission is to antagonize the American people over environmental issues we cannot detect without sophisticated instruments. How is this good for America? Does this mean we should shut down the Energy department since EPA is in charge of the national energy policy. Is the final solution for the EPA and the crowning glory of our environmental effort to turn Washington, DC, back into a swamp? I suspect that the folks in West Virginia will never see or smell any of the benefits of the new EPA regulations but they will notice the people out of work.  This sure looks like a policy created by folks who never have been to West Virginia. I love breathing clean air and seeing clean water but on this issue I think our priorities are screwed up.