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Monday, February 22, 2021

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“[In Texas] … the air is nothing but air. You can feel the air in New York. It’s got character” — Tony Randall to Rock Hudson in “Pillow Talk.”

A new study about the air in big city subway systems, including New York City’s, sheds some light about the nature of the dirtiest part of urban air. More importantly the study should go a long way to diffusing the coming Biden war against fossil fuels.


The study unsurprisingly reports that the air quality in subway stations and on subway trains is awful. That may not be news, but how awful it is should be.

In the PATH subway system between New York and New Jersey, for example, the average level of soot and dust particles (called PM2.5) in subway stations was measured at 65 times higher than the level permitted in outdoor air by EPA.

The very worst air in the subway system had 50% more PM2.5 than the very worst air in Chinese cities on their worst days of the past decade.

What does that have to do with the Biden administration?

The Obama EPA decided that any exposure to PM2.5 — even one particle – could cause death within hours, thereby turning PM2.5 into essentially the most toxic substance known to man. This characterization of PM2.5 in outdoor air was used to issue power plant emission rules that irreparably wrecked the coal industry. 

During the Trump years, another EPA panel of independent science advisors completely upended the designation of PM2.5 as a killer. The Trump EPA also took a number of actions to roll back major Obama EPA rules that had been justified on the grounds that PM2.5 killed hundreds of thousands of Americans every year.

But all that has changed now that Democrats are back in charge of the EPA and President Obama’s EPA chief, Gina McCarthy, is running Biden administration environmental policies from her White House post as “climate czar.” The Trump era changes are targeted for rollback by the Biden team and perhaps even by the Democrat-controlled Congress through the Congressional Review Act.

It’s already game on for EPA-funded researchers who claim that PM2.5 is a killer. Last week, Harvard researchers published a study claiming that PM2.5 kills 12.5 million people per year. That’s about one-fifths of all death globally each year and more than five times more deaths worldwide due to COVID-19. The Harvard researchers claim that 8.7 million of those 12.5 million deaths are due to PM2.5 from fossil fuel emissions from tailpipe and smokestacks.

You can imagine how such claims will be used by the Biden administration in its bid to “irreversibly” make oil, natural gas and coal illegal, as Ms. McCarthy recently stated.

As I have written on this page before, there is no credible science to back up the claim that PM2.5 in outdoor kills anyone, let alone 12.5 million people each year. The new subway study is just another and the latest nail in the coffin of PM2.5 alarmism. 

The PATH system between New York and New Jersey, carries more than 80 million passengers per year, about 280,000 per week day (pre-COVID). These passengers were daily exposed to extraordinarily high levels of supposedly the most toxic substance known to man. 

If it is true that PM2.5 is a killer, where are the bodies?

There aren’t any. In the 150 years of underground rail travel in New York City, there are no reports of PM2.5 in subway air — which can be worse than the worst air in heavily polluted China — being blamed for any death. The same is true for the other subways systems in the study. 

How can this subway air reality be reconciled with the claims of the new Harvard study? They can’t be. Something is obviously seriously wrong somewhere. 

As the Biden war against fossil fuels proceeds, the Biden EPA will undoubtedly try to terrify the public about “deadly” fossil fuel emissions and make unfounded claims about lives saved in order justify various regulatory actions. But while New York City air undeniably has a lot of “character,” that is many subway stops away from it killing anyone.

• Steve Milloy publishes JunkScience.com, served on the Trump-Pence EPA transition team and is the author of “Scare Pollution: Why and How to Fix the EPA” (Bench Press, 2016).


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