The EPA has been trying to justify setting stricter PM2.5 standards in its upcoming national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS). But the agency’s public statements on PM don’t square with its lax attitude about testing the air pollutant on humans.
“Maybe the biggest reason to slow down the new rule is that the EPA is talking out of both sides of their mouth,” Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter said last year. “On one side exposure to it is deadly, and on the other they say human exposure studies are not harmful.”
The EPA has said for many years now that PM is a deadly air pollutant that can cause death even after short-term exposure, but it did not disclose the mortality risks in some of its human tests, despite exposing people to high levels of PM.
One manager overseeing EPA human testing told the IG’s office that “the exposure risk for healthy individuals is minimal” and that a person breathing 420 micrograms per cubic meter for two hours “would inhale the same concentration as they would breathing 35 [micrograms per cubic meter]” which is the EPA’s 24-hour regulatory standard for outdoor PM2.5 levels.
The manager also said “that PM risk is focused on susceptible populations and that the risk is small for those with no overt disease.”
This alarmed Republicans who said that either the EPA was misrepresenting the science around PM2.5 to advance its own regulatory agenda or it was exposing people to deadly pollutants for little scientific gain.
“It’s alarming how the EPA is purposefully and blatantly ignoring an ongoing investigation of the legality and therefore scientific legitimacy of the use of human testing,” Vitter said. “This is another example of the EPA continuing to pick and choose scientific ‘facts’ to support their overreaching agenda.”
“It is a concern that EPA would assert in the rulemaking process that PM2.5 exposure is deadly while simultaneously asserting in the waivers signed by participants in EPA human exposure studies that these exposures are not harmful,” Republicans wrote to the EPA in February 2013. “Furthermore, there are valid questions about the quality or usefulness of the exposure studies actually relied upon by EPA.”
The agency actually proceeded in its PM2.5 rulemaking while the EPA IG’s office was conducting a review of its human testing procedures.
“EPA policy decisions must be based on sound science,” Lek Kadeli, acting administrator for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), said in response to the EPA IG’s report. “While there is a critical need for studies involving human subjects, ORD also understands that the research must be conducted in an ethical and vigilant manner.”
“As documented in the OIG’s report, EPA has established guidelines for conducting this type of research that are far in excess of what is normally required by universities, industry, and other government agencies conducting human studies research,” Kadeli said.
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