The Biggest News and Health Story in the U.S. That Nobody Paid Attention To

Andrew Winston
Nov 26 · 3 min read

Nearly 10,000 more people died in 2018 because of rising air pollution.

See Washington Post article

Air pollution kills. According to the World Health Organization, every year, 7 million people die early because of air pollution — from more strokes, heart attacks, and deadly lung and respiratory infections.

A month ago, as this Fox station reported, a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at the increase in air pollution in the United States. The focus was on particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers across (or, PM2.5).

These are super tiny particles. But we now know that the really small stuff is dangerous, in part because the particles get past the nose and throat and lodge in the lungs and circulatory system.

Here’s the PM2.5 trend line in the U.S. from the EPA and the Washington Post.

Looking at the raw data, from 2000 to 2016, the average concentration of PM2.5 dropped 43%.

Since 2016, this dangerous air pollution has gone up 5 to 6%.

The study’s authors estimate that in 2018, as the Post put it, “eroding air quality was linked to nearly 10,000 additional deaths in the U.S. relative to the 2016 benchmark.”

The study identified 3 main reasons for the rise:

  1. Increased economic activity and thus more use of natural gas and more driving.
  2. Increased wildfires that release large amounts of smoke and fine particles
  3. The rollback of regulatory enforcement and protection during the Trump Administration.

The economic activity part of the equation is fair to include, but clearly growth hasn’t stopped environmental progress in the past: from 2000 to 2016, real GDP in the U.S. was up 35% while PM2.5 went down 43%.

And the wildfires are no joke, but the study says they don’t explain the entire rise.

So the choice of this administration to reduce enforcement of the Clean Air Act has, in the least surprising outcome imaginable, increased air pollution. But this is not just about lax enforcement. The Trump administration has rolled back at least 85 environmental rules, with 24 of them focused on air pollution.

The Trump Administration rollback of air protection regulations is killing thousands of Americans

So let’s look at the pollution chart again, but now I’ve added data on how we did during the Bush, Obama, and Trump eras.

Let’s be generous and say a lack of enforcement is responsible for just 1/3 of the increase. That means more than 3,000-plus death, or — and forgive the tired analogy — the equivalent of a 9–11 attack. Are we ok with this?

And to what end? So some industries get less oversight and may have lower costs because they can pollute more freely?

It’s not even as simple as putting profit over lives since air pollution costs the economy real money — the study estimated economic damages of $89 billion from the increased deaths. And industries that are freer to pollute are impacted as well. Surely, many of their employees are among the 25 million Americans with asthma or the many millions more with heart conditions.

The very agencies tasked with keeping our air, water, and climate healthy have abdicated responsibility. And it’s killing Americans.

We have to pressure our politicians, and the heads of the EPA and Interior departments among others, to make health a top priority — i.e., to do their real jobs, not defend industry. Many other parts of the government, and many politicians, are protecting the interests of business just fine.

And if these politicians don’t listen, we should vote for different ones.

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