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EPA air-pollution figures are still wrong, scientist says

SHARE EPA air-pollution figures are still wrong, scientist says

The scientist whose complaint led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to trim its estimate of lives that could be saved by tougher air pollution regulations said this week that he'd found more mistakes.

Instead of possibly preventing 15,000 early deaths each year, the proposed standard for airborne soot would prevent fewer than 1,000 premature deaths annually, scientist Kay Jones said."We need to redo these studies," he said at a news conference arranged by Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation, a research arm of a business-backed group that opposes the tougher rules.

But local air pollution expert C. Arden Pope, a Brigham Young University economics professor, disagrees with Jones' conclusion.

"It's not really clear what I ought to say other than he's wrong," said Pope, who co-authored two of the studies Jones used to make his estimates.

There are at least two dozen scholarly papers published in major journals regarding the effects of air pollution on cardiopulmonary disease and mortality. The studies were completed before the EPA proposed tightening air quality standards, making it difficult for researchers to predict attributable mortality, Pope said. Estimates range from 15,000 annual deaths to 120,000.

"Part of the problem is everybody is playing games with these numbers," he said. "These studies are not designed to estimate attributable mortality."

Jones, a Seattle-based environmental engineer who worked for the EPA in the late 1960s and early 1970s, took issue with the way EPA calculated the preventable deaths figure. He took some of their raw data, analyzed it in a different way and concluded that tougher pollution rules would save fewer than 1,000 lives a year.

Jones said five more years of study are needed "to find answers to all questions that remain" about the health problems caused by microscopic dust known as particulate pollution.

When Jones spotted an error in the EPA's math recently, the agency backed off its original estimate that the tougher pollution rules could prevent 20,000 deaths each year.

But this time the agency said it is standing by its revised estimate of 15,000 deaths.

"EPA scientists believe that Dr. Jones' critique of this particular study is inaccurate," said spokeswoman Loretta Ucelli.

Pope calls the EPA figure conservative. His best estimate puts annual deaths in the 45,000 to 50,000 range.

Ron White of the American Lung Association, which favors tighter restrictions on dirty air, said he had not seen Jones' critique. But, he added, "We would be skeptical about how independent this analysis has been."

White said Jones was "working for industry representatives who have an agenda and an ax to grind about this issue."

The utility industry, manufacturers and other businesses oppose changing the nation's air-pollution standards because of the potential cost, both in new equipment and in higher electricity bills.

Business groups and Rust Belt governors have accused EPA of failing to show that health will be significantly improved if billions of dollars worth of new pollution controls are required.

Environmentalists and many health experts argue there is clear evidence that children and those suffering from respiratory problems are not adequately protected by the current standards.

The EPA is expected to make a final decision on new standards before July 19.