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article imageFired by Trump, 20 air quality experts to issue findings anyway

By Karen Graham     Oct 11, 2019 in Politics
Nearly one year ago, the Trump administration fired a panel of more than two dozen scientific experts who assisted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its review of air quality standards for particulate matter.
This move left the EPA with a bare-bones group of about seven people who are allegedly not qualified to decide air quality standards, according to a new group calling themselves the Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel.
The group of scientists, engineers and researchers are not taking their dismissal from the EPA lightly, especially when the EPA called the group "an impediment to meeting legal deadlines." Most of the scientists found out they had been dismissed through an EPA press release in October 2018.
The group held a two-day meeting in Arlington, Virginia on Thursday and Friday that was open to the public. Out of this came the Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel, organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists and panel chair H. Christopher Frey, an engineering professor at North Carolina State University. In the end, the panel agreed to submit its recommendations anyway.
An aerial picture taken  January 4  2018 shows smog over Russia's  industrial city of Krasnoyar...
An aerial picture taken January 4, 2018 shows smog over Russia's industrial city of Krasnoyarsk where citizens are monitoring air quality for themselves
Sergey FILININ, AFP/File
Rollbacks are endangering public health
Basically, this panel of experts who used to make up the now-disbanded Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) on particulate matter is going to issue their report on pollution anyway. The EPA plans to issue its findings reached without these experts later this month.
“They fired the particulate matter review panel and they said the chartered CASAC would do the review,” Chris Zarba, who served as the staff director of the Scientific Advisory Board at the EPA until 2018, said. “In the history of the agency, this has never happened. The new panel is unqualified and the new panel has said they were unqualified.”
Frey, in a discussion that delved into the health-based review that is required to be issued every five years, as a matter of law, said, "it is also a matter of law that these have to be science-based reviews." He added the review’s delays have “nothing to do with the panels and have everything to do with EPA and how it manages the review.”
A cloud of smog shrouds the skyline of Los Angeles in California  which has committed to uphold the ...
A cloud of smog shrouds the skyline of Los Angeles in California, which has committed to uphold the 2015 Paris climate deal despite Donald Trump's decision to take the US out of it
Peter Adams, an air quality expert who teaches engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, and a member of the new panel, calls fine particulate matter, or soot with particles measuring 2.5 microns, “arguably the single most important [air pollutant] because most of the health impacts and damage that come from air pollution come from pm-2.5.”
Particulate matter is just one of six major air pollutants governed by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which set countrywide caps on the concentrations allowed to be released in the atmosphere. The EPA is required by the Clean Air Act to review the standards every five years on particulate matter, as well as on carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, lead, and ozone.
Adams says the clean air standards are responsible for saving thousands of lives around the country. “It’s the indirect lever that really pushes a lot of air quality regulation in the United States,” he said.
Smog in the early morning sunlight over central London
Smog in the early morning sunlight over central London
Carl De Souza, AFP
The current national standard for fine particulate matter is 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The standard was last updated in 2012, lowered from the previously allowable 15 micrograms per cubic meter by the Obama administration’s EPA. It was previously changed in 1997.
“My personal opinion — and this is widely shared amongst scientific community — is that, even at concentrations below the 12 micrograms per cubic meter that is the current standard, there’s still a significant public health risk,” he said in the interview. “That’s the type of thing that’s normally discussed during the review.”
The bottom line? As long as the Trump administration continues to roll back clean air and water rules - showing little regard for science and caring even less for the environment - We as a nation will have to pay close attention to what the government is telling us.
More about Trump administration, Epa, advisory panel, air quality standards, particulate matter
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