The Obama administration has been claiming regulations put forward in its recently released Clean Power Plan will save thousands of lives from reduced levels of particulate matter and ozone.
There’s just one problem with that assertion: it’s not true, according to the chief toxicologist with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
“There’s just a whole host of things that are wrong with that [conclusion],” toxicologist Michael Honeycutt told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We have no documentation of anyone being killed by ozone.”
The EPA’s Clean Power Plan claims that cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants will force hundreds of coal-fired generators across the country to shut down, meaning levels of small particulates (PM 2.5) and pollutants that cause ground-level ozone, or smog, to form will decrease as well. The agency said “reducing exposure to particle pollution and ozone in 2030 will avoid a projected … 1,500 to 3,600 premature deaths.”
Toxicologists have challenged the EPA will save lives by reducing PM 2.5 and ozone-forming pollutants. Honeycutt said there’s not really much evidence to show that even at high ozone concentrations people are dying from exposure to the pollutant.
“They’ve done lots of clinical studies where they’ve exposed people to relatively high levels of ozone,” Honeycutt said. “It causes just very mild effects that are reversible and go away — even at high levels.”
EPA’s conclusions about ozone go even deeper. The agency claims that even exposure to low levels of ozone can cause premature death. EPA has a proposal to lower current national ozone standards even lower than they are now — even though the current standards have not been fully implemented.
“Really, nobody thinks this stuff is lethal at low levels,” Honeycutt said. “At high levels it’s a different story. It’s hard to even fathom how these low levels can kill people.”
The EPA claims lowering the ozone standard will avoid 710 to 4,300 premature deaths in 2025. But Honeycutt said the EPA is essentially claiming that these low levels of ozone are killing people when their own clinical tests show that high concentrations aren’t killing people.
“A shot glass full of whisky will kill you, but a body of whisky won’t,” Honeycutt said. “It doesn’t make any sense.” Honeycutt added that studies trying to link ozone to death show conflicting results.
“In Denver, ozone doesn’t kill you, but in Colorado Springs it does kill you. They are about 70 miles apart and Denver has about 10 percent more ozone than in Colorado Springs,” he said, talking about one such example.
Honeycutt said the EPA used data from 15 cities across the country. In 11 of those cities, there was no change in mortality when ozone levels changed. In two of those cities, the data found that lowering ozone correlated to more death, and in two more cities raising ozone levels was correlated with more death.
“Nevermind there could have been thousands of other things that contributed to those deaths,” Honeycutt said. “They have to use very elaborate statistical tests to find the relationship between the two. They are very inconsistent.”
“Most studies show no association between ozone and mortality in Southern California, the area of the country with the highest ozone concentrations,” Honeycutt added. “Lincoln, Nebraska has the correlation between ozone and deaths.”