Ozone, Asthma, and EPA Junk Science

On June 22, 2017, the Arizona Daily Star ran a story with the alarmist headline: “Tucson-area air quality the worst in five years.” The “worst in five years” thing is that on just five days during the past three months ground-level ozone measurements exceeded the EPA standard of 70ppb by a few parts per billion. “Ozone levels at Saguaro National Park-East that topped the 70 parts per billion federal standard: June 15 — 77 ppb, June 14 — 73 ppb, May 12 — 71 ppb, April 21 — 73 ppb, April 20 — 74 ppb.” The EPA claims that ozone causes asthma and other respiratory ailments, hence the strict standards. But, the EPA’s own data debunks the claim.

For many years, the EPA has been conducting experiments on the effects of ozone exposure. They placed volunteers in a closed room and subjected them to 300ppb and 400ppb ozone for two hours while they performed mild exercise. The 6,000 volunteers included children, the elderly, and even asthmatics. The EPA reports that “not a single adverse event.. [was] observed.” (Source)

There is also independent data showing that EPA ozone standards are bunk. For instance, there was “No association between air quality (PM2.5, ozone) and hospital admissions for asthma in University of California-Davis Health System during 2010-2012 (19,000+ cases). (Source)

According to the Institute for Energy Research, “average ozone concentrations nationwide dropped by 33 percent from 1980 to 2014. Since the incorporation of the 2008 standards, average ozone levels have declined by more than 9 percent, nationally.”

IER also reports: “According to an August 2015 report by NERA Economic Consulting, which analyzed the impacts of a 65 ppb standard (EPA ultimately went with a slightly higher 70 ppb standard), the total compliance costs could total $1.13 trillion from 2017 to 2040. The rule could also lead to annualized GDP declines of $140 billion as well as $840 in consumption losses for households.” (Source)

The EPA’s rules were endorsed by a panel of scientists required by law to review them, called the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). Both the Clean Air Act and the Federal Advisory Committee Act required that CASAC panels be independent and unbiased. So was the panel independent and/or unbiased? A report shows that members of the board received a total of $192 million worth of EPA grants. (Source)

Some background:

“Ground-level ozone is formed through a chemical reaction when nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) interact with sunlight. Emissions from power plants, industrial facilities, automobiles, gasoline vapors and solvents are all sources of NOx and VOCs. Natural sources, such as plant life and fires, also contribute to the formation of ozone; today, given how much ozone levels in the United States have already been reduced, a significant portion of a given area’s ozone concentration is made up of natural background ozone and ozone that has traveled from other states and, increasingly, from overseas.” (Source, study by National Association of Manufacturers)

A measurement problem:

“While the EPA has long known that ozone measurements are significantly biased upward by mercury vapor, the agency has required States to use ultraviolet ozone monitors subject to mercury interference. These ozone monitors blow air between an ultraviolet (UV) lamp and a UV detector. Ozone strongly absorbs UV, so reductions in UV arriving at the detector are proportional to the ozone in the air. But mercury vapor and other contaminants in air also absorb UV, thus, artificially inflating the amount of ‘ozone’ that is measured. The bias can range from a few parts per billion to many more.” (Source)

Mercury occurs in soil in and around Tucson. It is possible that readings recorded by local instruments may be “biased upward” by the mercury contained in blowing dust. A study in Avra Valley, west of Tucson, found soil mercury values up to 750ppb. (Arizona Geological Survey, Open-File Report 81-5, 1981).

The AZ Star article expresses much concern over the County exceeding EPA standards. These standards are the current law, so they may have economic consequences for non-attainment. There is, however, no proof that exceeding these standards have any effect on health.

See also: EPA experiments on humans debunk their ozone and particulate matter health claims

EPA Clean Power Plan is Junk Science

This post is reblogged from article by Marlo Lewis. Its full title is “How Can EPA’s ‘Clean Power Plan’ Deliver $Billions in Climate Benefits If It Has No Detectable Impact on Global Temperatures, Sea-Level Rise, or Other Climate Indicators?”

EPA’s carbon “pollution” rule for existing power plants, dubbed the Clean Power Plan, requires states, on average, to reduce power-sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis projects significant incremental annual compliance costs — $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion in 2030 (RIA ES-7) — but also much larger air quality and climate benefits. EPA’s Clean Power Plan “By the Numbers” Fact Sheet estimates the public health and climate benefits at $55 billion to $93 billion. The RIA projects net benefits of $46 billion to $84 billion in 2030 (RIA ES-23).

Reductions in premature fatalities attributed to coincidental reductions in ozone and fine particulate (MP2.5) pollution account for more than 90% of the estimated $23 billion to $59 billion in health benefits in 2030 (RIA ES-22). Those gigantic air quality “co-benefits” should be taken with several handfuls of salt.

Claims that PM2.5 pollution currently kills thousands of Americans annually are based on cherry-picked studies and extrapolation of health effects below the lowest PM2.5 concentrations associated with mortality in epidemiological studies. Such claims also conflict with toxicological studies, which indicate that current PM2.5 concentrations in U.S. cities are too low to cause significant disease or death.

As for ozone pollution, the rule’s purported health benefits are even less plausible, since asthma prevalence – especially childhood asthma rates — increased since 1980 while ozone concentrations declined by 25%.* The Clean Power Rule will reduce ozone precursor emissions chiefly by forcing states to shift base load generation from coal to natural gas. But the state with the worst ozone pollution is California, which obtains only 0.4% of its electricity from coal.

Those are my preliminary reactions to the rule’s co-benefit claims. I turn now to the main topic of this post — whether the rule’s alleged climate benefits justify the estimated costs.
Go to source for remainder of the article.

Be skeptical of health studies linking X to Y

On Tuesday we were treated to two front page stories in the Arizona Daily Star linking a health phenomenon to a supposed cause. However, such epidemiological studies prove nothing regarding cause and effect; the link or association is merely suggestive. Frequently such studies fail to consider other possible causes or confounding factors. The association between X and Y could in fact be valid, or it could be a coincidence.

The first story, written by Tony Davis, is “UA study: Diesel exhaust here linked to childhood wheezing.”

In this case, University of Arizona researchers suggest “Infants and very young children in Tucson exposed to high levels of vehicle diesel pollution are more likely than other kids to suffer from early childhood wheezing, a potential asthma indicator.” The study involved 700 children, a very small sample size for such a study, and compared the incidence of childhood wheezing with traffic patterns. According to information in the story, the researchers did not consider some confounding factors such as allergens in the study area or emissions from gasoline-powered vehicles. They did note “A majority of children have wheezing problems in the first few years of their lives due to viral infections..” But the report of the study did not say how that factor was separated from the diesel fumes association. The study report did not dig deeply into socio-economic factors that could impact pre-natal and post-natal care. The study leaves many uncertainties. And perhaps more ominously, “The researchers are also going to see if any kinds of public policies need changing to protect such children.” What would bureaucrats do; forbid families with young children from living near major traffic routes?

The second study, “Kids may help prevent heart disease in men” reported by the Associated Press involved 138,000 men. This study, by AARP, the government, and several universities noted that men with children have lower testosterone and a lower incidence of heart disease. Unlike the first story, this one was more circumspect in its claims. The story noted “a study like this can’t prove that fatherhood and mortality are related.” The story also admitted that it did not consider confounding factors such as the cholesterol and blood pressure data, fertility of the men’s partners, nor the case of being childless by choice.

These kinds of stories make good headlines but often bad science and  unwarranted worry. They can also precipitate harmful government regulation. For instance, see my post “Ozone theory has holes.”

In that story I report that the FDA is banning inexpensive over-the-counter inhalers for asthmatics and forcing them to buy more-expensive prescription medications on the theory that the CFC propellants in the cheap inhalers are harming the ozone layer. Science has proved that wrong, but the FDA apparently hasn’t gotten the message.

So, whenever you see such a story reporting a link or association of one thing to another, be skeptical, and remember this coincidence: human life expectancy has increased since the invention of the Yo-Yo. Will we someday see this headline: “Study: Yo-Yos linked to longer life”? That headline has the same validity as the stories mentioned above.

See also (links updated):

Statistical Games #1

Statistical Games #2 Stroke for Stroke

Ozone theory has holes

Last Friday a story in the Arizona Daily Star: “Asthmatics must switch to costlier ‘green’ inhalers” notes that asthmatics will no longer be able to purchase inexpensive inhalers because the propellant contains chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which the FDA thinks harm the ozone layer. The FDA said that patients who use the epinephrine inhalers (cost about $20) will need to switch by Dec. 31 to albuterol inhalers which cost $30 to $60.

Besides asthma, it seems these people will also suffer from bad science and over-zealous regulation.

Ozone (O3, a variant of the oxygen molecule O2) produces smog when it is at ground level, but high in the atmosphere, ozone protects us from Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the Sun.

Back in 1956, scientists noticed that the atmospheric ozone layer seasonally thinned over the South Pole. The size of the ‘hole’ varied from year to year. The reigning theory as to the cause of this ‘hole’ was that CFCs reacted with the ozone and caused its destruction leaving us vulnerable to UV radiation. This theory led to the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty promoted by the United Nations. It went into effect in 1989 and required a phase-out of all CFCs which, at the time were used mainly in refrigerators, air-conditioning units, and to a lesser extent, as propellants for inhalers.

The alleged science behind this ban, according to Wikipedia, is this:

In 1973 Chemists Frank Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina, then at the University of California, Irvine, began studying the impacts of CFCs in the Earth’s atmosphere. They discovered that CFC molecules were stable enough to remain in the atmosphere until they got up into the middle of the stratosphere where they would finally …be broken down by ultraviolet radiation releasing a chlorine atom. Rowland and Molina then proposed that these chlorine atoms might be expected to cause the breakdown of large amounts of ozone (O3) in the stratosphere. Their argument was based upon an analogy to contemporary work by Paul J. Crutzen and Harold Johnston, which had shown that nitric oxide (NO) could catalyze the destruction of ozone.

In other words, the catalytic reaction of CFCs on ozone was hypothesized based on “might be expected” and by “analogy.” However, there still is no proof that it actually happens in nature on a large scale.

ozone1The first chink in the CFC-ozone hypothesis came in 2007 with an article in Nature: “Chemists poke holes in ozone theory.” Chemists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory found that the rate of photolysis (light-activated splitting) of CFCs was much slower than had been assumed. This means: “The rapid photolysis of Cl2O2 is a key reaction in the chemical model of ozone destruction. If the rate is substantially lower than previously thought, then it would not be possible to create enough aggressive chlorine radicals to explain the observed ozone losses at high latitudes.”

So, if it’s not CFCs, what might be causing the variation in ozone? A possible answer was presented by researcher Qing-Bin Lu (University of Waterloo, Canada) in Physical Review Letters of the American Physical Society, 19 March 2009:

This Letter reports reliable satellite data in the period of 1980–2007 covering two full 11-yr cosmic ray (CR) cycles, clearly showing the correlation between CRs and ozone depletion, especially the polar ozone loss (hole) over Antarctica. The results provide strong evidence of the physical mechanism that the CR-driven electron-induced reaction of halogenated molecules plays the dominant role in causing the ozone hole.

Independent research from Cornell, published in 2010, also found a correlation between cosmic rays and the size of the ozone ‘hole.’

The FDA’s basis for banning the inhalers is not supported by current science, so asthmatics will suffer even more from the expense to pay for an eco-fad. And really, even if CFCs do impact ozone, how much CFCs come from inhalers?

Note: The ozone is produced by UV rays breaking down oxygen. Ozone thinning normally occurs in winter when sunlight and UV rays disappear allowing the normally unstable ozone to decay. The amount and extent of decay apparently depends on cosmic ray flux.

See also:

Antarctic ozone hole may have larger role in climate change

CERN experiment confirms cosmic ray effect on climate