Air Monitoring

Is the Air "Too Clean"?

Nov 13 2017 Comments 0

The man widely tipped to join the advisory board for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes that the air we breathe today is “too clean” for children’s lungs. Speaking in 2012, Robert Phalen professed that developing lungs need to be exposed to pollutants so that their bodies can develop resistance against them.

Despite his theories being widely discredited by the scientific world, it seems as though Phalen will be appointed as an advisor to the EPA by its current administrator, Scott Pruitt. The move is just the most recent decision that has been criticised by Democrats and environmentalists, who believe Pruitt (and, by extension, President Trump) are making the EPA more susceptible to influence by the very industry it is intended to regulate.

Who is Robert Phalen?

Robert Phalen currently serves as the director for the Air Pollution Health Effects Laboratory at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), which makes it sound like he should have the qualifications and experience necessary to serve on the EPA advisory board.

However, Phalen’s track record with regards to climate change is a little dubious, to say the least. In 2004, he downplayed the seriousness of particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), which is widely acknowledged in the scientific world as one of the most dangerous pollutants in our atmosphere.

“The relative risks associated with modern [particulate matter] are very small and confounded by many factors,” he wrote in the study. “Neither toxicology studies nor human clinical investigations have identified the components and/or characteristics of [particulate matter] that might be causing the health-effect associations.”

He has since gone on to claim in 2012 that the air at the time was “a little too clean for optimum health”, stating that it lacked the irritants to stimulate a defensive response in developing lungs. At a time when the rest of the planet – including much of the developing world – is becoming ever more preoccupied with the cleanliness of our air, Phalen’s stance is a concerning one.

Typical of Trump administration

Although it has provoked widespread criticism, the expected appointment of Phalen has become somewhat indicative of the Trump administration’s approach to the EPA. Earlier this year, the President appointed Scott Pruitt as the administrator of the agency.

At the beginning of November, Pruitt announced that the EPA would disbar any scientist who received grant money from the regulatory body from serving on its advisory panel. While the ban was supposedly an effort to keep “political science” out of EPA decisions, Pruitt has been criticised for replacing those scientists with alternatives who have traditionally been softer on industry.

Another expected appointment which has drawn widespread criticism is Michael Honeycutt to the position of Chairperson of the Advisory Board. Honeycutt is a renowned toxicologist and has long disputed the importance of clean air through his published work and his disputes with the EPA.

Just six years after President Obama introduced legislation aimed at curbing mercury emissions from power plants and several other regulations, Trump appears to be rolling back as many of those measures as he can. By stacking the EPA with representatives who believe that air monitoring is not important or, even more concerningly, that our current airwaves are “too clean”, he makes that scenario all the more possible.

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