By kowtowing to industry, agency actions increase the risk of death from the COVID-19 virus. Action Alert!
A recent Harvard study found that a small increase in soot air pollution is associated with a 15% increase in the COVID-19 death rate. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced they are waving multiple environmental laws that reduce air pollution for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19. Through these actions, the EPA is putting us more at risk from COVID-19 infection, prioritizing polluter profits over public health.
The agency’s announcement about relaxing environmental standards came just six days after the oil industry asked for regulatory relief during the coronavirus outbreak.
Studies of SARS, another coronavirus, also found that, as air pollution increased, so too did SARS case fatality. Note that air pollution increases the risk of chronic and acute respiratory diseases, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes; people with these conditions have a fatality rate from COVID-19 that is 700-1,400% higher compared to those who don’t have these preconditions.
First, the EPA passed up an opportunity to reduce industrial soot emissions—the same type of pollution that the Harvard study found increased the COVID-19 death rate. The EPA’s own scientists found that strengthening the rule could save 12,150 people a year. Who knows how many more deaths on top of these estimates will come about as a result of increased susceptibility to COVID-19?
The agency also just completed a rule that will expose us to more mercury and other toxic metals from oil and coal-fired power plants. Mercury occurs naturally in coal and fossil fuels; burning these substances releases mercury into the atmosphere. The rule will bar the EPA from taking secondary public health benefits into account when conducting a cost/benefit analysis for a rule. The intent of the change is to provide legal justification to weaken mercury emissions rules. Recall that mercury in any form is toxic. Organic mercury readily crosses the blood-brain barrier and damages developing nervous tissue. Children are at the greatest risk, as exposure to methylmercury can impact cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, motor skills, and spatial skills.
The EPA is also rolling back car pollution standards. Old standards required an average 5% reduction in emissions annually from cars and light truck fleets; the new standard requires just 1.5%. According to an analysis from the Environmental Defense Fund, the change will result in a total of 18,500 premature deaths, 25,000 more asthma attacks, 350,000 other respiratory problems, and $190 billion in health costs between now and 2050. Again, these estimates do not include how many more people will become infected and die from COVID-19 as a result of exposure to additional air pollution.
Air pollution clearly stresses our respiratory system and makes us chronically sick, leaving us more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. Note too that the most vulnerable are most at risk, as low-income neighborhoods near highways and industrial plants will experience the highest level of exposure.
All of these rollbacks have happened since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US. This is inexcusable. Hardly more evidence is needed that the EPA is completely in the pocket of polluters. This crony capitalism will lead to many preventable deaths that will be on the agency’s hands.
Action Alert! Write to Congress and the EPA, telling them to reverse these decisions to protect us from more severe COVID 19 infection. Please send your message immediately.