Air quality in the United States is getting worse, and research suggests the dirty air is taking years off Americans’ lives.
According to a study published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, fine particulate pollution increased 5.5 percent between 2016 and 2018, and evidence suggests the spike is responsible for 9,700 premature deaths last year alone. The study was based on data provided by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The bump in pollution comes after the amount of fine particulate matter in the air had decreased every year — and 24.2 percent overall — from 2009 to 2016. Some of the factors that study’s authors say are driving the increase are largely unrelated to Trump administration decisions: The health of the economy has prompted more driving and increased wildfires have put more particulate into the atmosphere. But the author’s also cite the government’s failure to enforce the Clean Air Act, which the Trump administration has worked to dismantle.
The study’s authors are not alone in contending that the effects of the rise in fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) are “significant.” A separate study published in August found that airborne PM 2.5 shortens life expectancy by an average of four months in the United States, and one year globally. Joshua Apte, an engineering professor at the University of Texas who authored the study, described PM 2.5 to the New York Times as “the single most important environmental pollutant for ill health and death.”
The Trump administration does not care. In May, the Times reported that the EPA had doctored its own formula for calculating deaths caused by PM 2.5 in order to subvert the 2015 Clean Power Plan and ramp up coal production, one of the leading causes of PM 2.5. The move was defended by William Wehrum, the agency’s assistant administrator for air and radiation who previously served as a coal-industry lobbyist and has been under investigation for using his new office to benefit his former clients. Meanwhile, Americans are dying as more PM 2.5 is filling the air.
One of the reasons Wehrum and the EPA have been able to disregard the effects of PM 2.5 is that many of the agency’s air pollution and public health experts have been fired. On Tuesday, a group of the dismissed, dubbed the Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel, wrote an open letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler urging him to impose stricter air quality regulations while noting the “overall consistent scientific basis for finding that the current primary PM 2.5 standards are not protective of public health.”
While the EPA takes steps to increase pollution, President Trump has been oblivious, repeatedly insisting at rallies and while speaking to reporters that America’s air has never been cleaner.
REPORTER: Mr. President, why did you go to the climate change meeting today at #unga?
TRUMP: Because I believe in clean air and clean water. Very simple. We have the cleanest air, we have the cleanest water — cleaner than it's ever been before in our country. (This is a lie.) pic.twitter.com/VA3OVwJByv
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 23, 2019
We have a feeling the new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research is not going to sway Trump’s thinking on the issue.