The agency conducted tests on people with health issues and the elderly, exposing them to high levels of potentially lethal pollutants, without disclosing the risks of cancer and death, according to a newly released government report.
These experiments exposed people, including those with asthma and heart problems, to dangerously high levels of toxic pollutants, including diesel fumes, reads a EPA inspector general report obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation. The EPA also exposed people with health issues to levels of pollutants up to 50 times greater than the agency says is safe for humans.
The EPA conducted five experiments in 2010 and 2011 to look at the health effects of particulate matter, or PM, and diesel exhaust on humans. The IG’s report found that the EPA did get consent forms from 81 people in five studies. But the IG also found that “exposure risks were not always consistently represented.”
“Further, the EPA did not include information on long-term cancer risks in its diesel exhaust studies’ consent forms,” the IG’s report noted. “An EPA manager considered these long-term risks minimal for short-term study exposures” but “human subjects were not informed of this risk in the consent form.”
According to the IG’s report, “only one of five studies’ consent forms provided the subject with information on the upper range of the pollutant” they would be exposed to, but even more alarming is that only “two of five alerted study subjects to the risk of death for older individuals with cardiovascular disease.”
Three of the studies exposed people to high levels of PM and two of the studies exposed people to high levels of diesel exhaust and ozone. Diesel exhaust contains 40 toxic air contaminants, including 19 that are known carcinogens and PM. The EPA has publicly warned of the dangers of PM, but seemed to downplay them in their scientific studies on humans.
“This lack of warning about PM,” the IG’s report notes, “is also different from the EPA’s public image about PM.”
The EPA has been operating under the assumption that PM is deadly for years now. The IG’s report points to a 2003 EPA document that says short-term exposure to PM can result in heart attacks and arrhythmias for people with heart disease — and long-term exposure can result in reduced lung function and even death. A 2006 review by the EPA presents even further links between short-term PM exposure and “mortality and morbidity.”
“Particulate matter causes premature death. It doesn’t make you sick. It’s directly causal to dying sooner than you should,” former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson told Congress on Sept. 22, 2011.
“If we could reduce particulate matter to healthy levels it would have the same impact as finding a cure for cancer in our country,” Jackson added.
PM is a “mixture of harmful solid and liquid particles” that the EPA regulates. PM that is 2.5 microns or less is known as PM2.5, which is about “1/30th the thickness of a human hair.” These small particles can get into people’s respiratory system and can harm human health and even lead to death after just short-term exposure.
The EPA set PM2.5 primary standards at 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air on an annual average basis, but the agency exposed test subjects to PM levels of 600 micrograms per cubic meter — 40 times what the EPA sets as an acceptable outdoor air standard.
But in five of the studies, people were subject to levels higher than what they signed on for. The EPA IG found that one person was hit with “pollutant concentrations that reached 751 [micrograms per cubic meter], which exceeded the IRB-approved concentration target of 600 [micrograms per cubic meter].”
The EPA says that when PM2.5 levels are between about 250 and 500 micrograms per cubic meter “[e]veryone should avoid any outdoor exertion. People with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children should remain indoors.”
No one was killed during the test, but a source close to the issue says that one test subject — a 58-year-old obese woman with medical problems and a family history of heart disease — was ordered to go to the hospital by the EPA after being exposed to “ambient air pollution particles” in October 2010.
Other test subjects also experienced health problems during their testing. One subject developed a persistent cough after being exposed to ozone for 15 minutes in April 2011 and two other subjects suffered from “cardiac arrhythmias” during testing in 2010 after being exposed to “clean air.”
The EPA has been trying to justify setting stricter PM2.5 standards in its upcoming national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS). But the agency’s public statements on PM don’t square with its lax attitude about testing the air pollutant on humans.
“Maybe the biggest reason to slow down the new rule is that the EPA is talking out of both sides of their mouth,” Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter said last year. “On one side exposure to it is deadly, and on the other they say human exposure studies are not harmful.”
The EPA has said for many years now that PM is a deadly air pollutant that can cause death even after short-term exposure, but it did not disclose the mortality risks in some of its human tests, despite exposing people to high levels of PM.
One manager overseeing EPA human testing told the IG’s office that “the exposure risk for healthy individuals is minimal” and that a person breathing 420 micrograms per cubic meter for two hours “would inhale the same concentration as they would breathing 35 [micrograms per cubic meter]” which is the EPA’s 24-hour regulatory standard for outdoor PM2.5 levels.
The manager also said “that PM risk is focused on susceptible populations and that the risk is small for those with no overt disease.”
This alarmed Republicans who said that either the EPA was misrepresenting the science around PM2.5 to advance its own regulatory agenda or it was exposing people to deadly pollutants for little scientific gain.
“It’s alarming how the EPA is purposefully and blatantly ignoring an ongoing investigation of the legality and therefore scientific legitimacy of the use of human testing,” Vitter said. “This is another example of the EPA continuing to pick and choose scientific ‘facts’ to support their overreaching agenda.”
“It is a concern that EPA would assert in the rulemaking process that PM2.5 exposure is deadly while simultaneously asserting in the waivers signed by participants in EPA human exposure studies that these exposures are not harmful,” Republicans wrote to the EPA in February 2013. “Furthermore, there are valid questions about the quality or usefulness of the exposure studies actually relied upon by EPA.”
The agency actually proceeded in its PM2.5 rulemaking while the EPA IG’s office was conducting a review of its human testing procedures.
“EPA policy decisions must be based on sound science,” Lek Kadeli, acting administrator for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), said in response to the EPA IG’s report. “While there is a critical need for studies involving human subjects, ORD also understands that the research must be conducted in an ethical and vigilant manner.”
“As documented in the OIG’s report, EPA has established guidelines for conducting this type of research that are far in excess of what is normally required by universities, industry, and other government agencies conducting human studies research,” Kadeli said.