A Free-Market Energy Blog

The Harm from Bad Science (Part II: PM 2.5, Mercury, and Beyond)

By -- October 24, 2018

[Editor Note: This is the second of three posts on the human harm from pseudo-science. Part I yesterday introduced the history of scientific fraud as a precursor to the much more sophisticated misdirection of today. Part III tomorrow will consider climate-change controversies.]

Air Pollution – PM2.5

EPA exonerated glyphosate – and did so during the Obama era. That alone should be dispositive on the chemical’s dangers because, especially during the Obama years, EPA was the most dogmatic US government agency with regard to blaming industry for imagined, exaggerated or fabricated risks.

A prime example is PM2.5: particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns – soot that’s a fourth the diameter of pollen. President Obama had promised that his EPA would shut down coal-fired power plants and bankrupt the industry. PM2.5 was their weapon of choice.

Any exposure at all is lethal, EPA officials testified before Congress. “There is no safe level,” they claimed, no level “at which premature mortality effects do not occur.” The claims have no factual basis.

EPA uses epidemiological studies to blame deaths on soot. But these studies are corrupted by so many “confounding factors” that researchers cannot possibly attribute particular deaths to particulates.

They cannot possibly separate PM2.5 particles emitted by power plants from those emitted by vehicles, factories, volcanoes, forest fires, dust storms – or cigarettes that instantly send up to 1,000 times more tiny particles into lungs than what EPA says is lethal if they come from a power plant. EPA studies cannot possibly tell whether a particular death was caused by airborne particles – or by viruses, bacteria, dietary habits, obesity, smoking, diabetes, cold weather or countless other factors.

EPA therefore needed additional studies – which JunkScience.com director Steve Milloy discovered involved human test subjects! Not only is it illegal and unethical to conduct experiments on humans, neither EPA nor the universities they hired to conduct the tests informed their test subjects that (according to EPA) the pollution they were going to breathe was toxic, carcinogenic and deadly. Even more outrageous, many of the people recruited for these studies were precisely those who EPA says are most at risk from PM2.5: the elderly, asthmatics, diabetics, people with heart disease – and children!

To top it off, the test subjects were exposed to eight, thirty, even sixty times more particulates per volume than what they would breathe outdoors – and what the EPA claims are lethal. Moreover, they were fed these pollutants for up to two hours.

All this raises several very inconvenient questions for EPA.

1) If PM2.5 particles are dangerous or lethal if we breathe them outdoors – how can they be harmless to human guinea pigs who were intentionally administered PM2.5 pollution at levels dozens of times higher than they would encounter outdoors?

2) If there is no safe threshold for PM2.5, shouldn’t EPA officials, its researchers, and their institutions be prosecuted for deliberately misleading volunteers and persuading them to breathe “poisonous” gases?

3) Thankfully, none of the test subjects died from inhaling the pollutants. But if no one died, doesn’t that mean the EPA is lying when it says there is no safe level – and the agency’s expensive, disruptive regulations are saving countless lives?

4) Doesn’t it mean there really are safe levels, PM2.5 particles really are not toxic or lethal at typical US outdoor levels, and EPA’s draconian standards should be relaxed significantly?

5) Shouldn’t it also mean EPA officials should be prosecuted for lying to Congress and the public, defrauding the nation, and imposing those costs for no real benefits?

6) How did EPA get away with this? For one thing, it had CASAC – its Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee – and it paid CASAC members handsomely to rubberstamp agency actions. In fact, Milloy reported, in November 2015 EPA formed a new CASAC particulates panel. Of its 26 members, 24 were current or former recipients of EPA grants. In fact, they had collectively received $190 million from EPA!

EPA also gave over $20 million to the American Lung Association – another “independent” group that routinely rubber-stamped Obama rules. (These grants and obvious conflicts of interest are the primary reasons that former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reformed CASAC shortly before he resigned.)

Air Pollution – Mercury

Like its radical environmentalist allies, the Obama EPA was adept at frightening people, especially mothers. One of its favorite villains was mercury, the brain-addling chemical of Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatter fame.

This liquid metal is found naturally in air, water, rocks, soils and trees. When tree roots absorb water, they also absorb any mercury that’s present in the local soil and water; when those trees burn, they release mercury back into the environment.

As Dr. Willie Soon documented, a decade ago, America’s coal-burning power plants emitted about 45 tons of mercury per year – and much less now, because so many were closed down during the Obama era. U.S. forest fires emit at least that much every year. Chinese power plants eject well over 400 tons. And volcanoes, subsea vents, geysers and other sources spew out some 10,000 tons of mercury per year.

That means U.S. coal-burning generators account for well under 0.5% of all the mercury in the global atmosphere and oceans.

And yet EPA claimed America’s coal plants were the dominant source of mercury, and shutting them down would prevent numerous prenatal, childhood and adult learning problems. EPA even calculated precisely how much its War on Coal would help students: it claimed closing U.S. coal-fired power plants would reduce airborne mercury enough to improve children’s IQ scores by an average of 0.009 points.

The average IQ test has a five-point margin of error, which further underscores how deceptive EPA is regarding its mercury claims.

Other Recent/Ongoing Scientific Frauds

1. Linear no threshold, or LNT. This is the notion that there is no safe level – no threshold below which exposure to soot, radiation or a chemical is not harmful.

The PM2.5 scandal demonstrated how faulty this is, and Dr. Ed Calabrese has shown how low level exposures actually safeguard our bodies against a host of health risks, via a process called hormesis. For instance, low levels of radon exposure can protect against cancer; 80 milligrams of aspirin are thought to prevent strokes; trace amounts of selenium help our bodies counteract mercury.

In recent years, lawyers, environmentalists and bureaucrats have taken the LNT falsehood even further. Now the LNT assertion amounts to: if anyone can detect a substance, it’s dangerous.

Modern technologies can detect the equivalent of parts per trillion: one second in 32,000 years. But now activists and lawyers say we should worry about “detectable” amounts of Chromium-6 leaching out of coal ash into water, for example – or “detectable” amounts of glyphosate on food or in drinking water.

However, Chromium-6 is present naturally in 70-90% of all water in the United States. Is that water also a major concern all of a sudden? Should all families purchase home water filtration systems? Where is the real-world proof that barely detectable levels of Cr-6 pose health risks of any kind?

2. The Precautionary Principle. This supposed “guideline” says chemicals should be restricted or banned if there is a possibility … or accusation … that they could be harmful – even if there is no actual evidence of a cause-effect link.

Even worse, it considers only risks from using chemicals that agitators or regulators dislike. It never considers the risks of not using them – or the risks that using the chemicals could reduce or eliminate.

And if agitators and regulators like and support a chemical – like copper sulfate or rotenone for organic farming – we are supposed to believe it’s OK if they ignore or suppress evidence of harmful impacts from that chemical.

The EU recently banned neonics, based on IARC allegations and a rigged precautionary process that would likely prevent any insecticide from ever being approved. Indeed, it would likely have prevented most modern technologies of any kind from being approved: cars, airplanes, cell phones, electricity and countless others. All have risks that would trigger the absurd PP process.

3. Organic foods and GMOs – genetically engineered crops, like Bt corn. The organic food industry and anti-chemical, anti-biotechnology groups constantly make unproven claims that organic foods are better, safer, healthier, more nutritious, more sustainable. Foods grown with modern chemical fertilizers are bad for you, they insist; GMO-based foods are nothing short of poisonous.

Any other industry would be investigated, prosecuted and punished for making deceptive claims like these, or paying activists to do so. But thus far the organic industry, anti-GMO activists and regulators have gotten away with it, under what amount to ethical and regulatory double standards.

4. The Endangered Species Act has also become a favorite weapon for delaying or blocking countless projects. It also enables pressure groups to raise money and get paid millions of dollars in court costs and attorney fees from US taxpayers for filing endless lawsuits to delay and block projects.

Northern, southern, eastern, southeastern and North By Northwestern spotted owls, sage grouse, dusky gopher frogs and rusty patch bumblebees can thus effectively block road building, timber cutting and oil drilling. But the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and similar groups have never sued to block “eco-friendly” wind farms that would likely exterminate eagles and other raptors for miles around.

They likewise never worry about massive conflagrations that utterly destroy habitats half the size of Rhode Island for decades to come, and incinerate nearly every endangered and other species in them.


Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for several think tanks and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black Death and other books and articles on energy, climate change, economic development and human rights.


  1. Bob Cherba  

    One of these days the alarmists (about everything) are going to notice that life is the leading cause of death, then what will they do.


  2. Mark Krebs  

    In part 1, you wrote:

    Not only would this bankrupt the companies. It could eliminate this chemical from home arsenals … and from agricultural use, where it is the foundation for no-till farming, which dramatically reduces labor, costs and soil erosion. It would force thousands of farmers to rely on weeding by hand or with short hoes.

    Adversely impacting no till farming would, in turn, adversely impact the need for increasing carbon to depleted soils. According to the Kellogg Biological Station Long-term Ecological Research program (http://extension.missouri.edu/sare/documents/climatechange2012.pdf):

    Results suggest that not only could row-crop agriculture be CO2-neutral, but crop production could help to mitigate greenhouse gas production in general — sufficient even to offset the annual increase in U.S. GWI from the emission of fossil fuel CO2.

    If true, why are environmentalists even bothering trying to force consumers away from fossil fuels?


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