As Americans across the country die from the coronavirus, the Trump Administration will choose not to raise air quality standards, even though scientific research suggests a link between air pollution and Covid-19 deaths, the New York Times reported.
Instead, according to the Times, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler will likely announce Monday afternoon that the department will keep existing regulations on PM2.5 particles, which can damage lungs and is associated with respiratory illness, heart attacks, lung cancer and premature death.
According to the Washington Post, when the plan was first announced in April, Wheeler told reporters that keeping regulations at current levels protects the public’s health.
“The United States has some of the cleanest air in the world, and we’re going to keep it that way,” Wheeler said. “We believe the current standard is protective of public health.”
The current standard was set in 2012 and restricts industrial pollution to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. But according to EPA scientists, we could save as many as 12,150 lives each year if the government limited pollution to nine micrograms per cubic meter. As EPA scientists wrote in their review of the standard, which is required by law every five years, “Studies… report that reductions in ambient PM2.5 are associated with improvements in longevity.”
And with the emergence of the coronavirus, scientists at Harvard studying 3,080 U.S. counties linked pollution particles to higher death rates from Covid-19. “The results of this paper suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe Covid-19 outcomes,” the authors wrote in a draft that has been submitted to the New England Journal of Medicine for peer review.
Their research also found that a person who spent decades of their lives in an area with high pollution has a 15 percent higher chance of dying from the coronavirus than a similar person living in an area with one microgram per cubic meter less pollution.
“This study provides evidence that counties that have more polluted air will experience higher risks of death for Covid-19,” the study’s lead author Francesca Dominici, who is a professor of biostatistics at Harvard, told the Times.
But President Trump is a climate change denier and a friend to business, which has been reflected in his administration’s environmental policy. In mid-November, the Times reported that the administration has rolled back or intends to roll back more than 100 rules limiting air and water pollution, restricting toxic chemicals and protecting wildlife. Trump has also led the largest reduction of protected lands in the country’s history.