EPA Air Pollution Rules May Have More Uncertain Effects Than Expected

First Posted: May 26, 2015 09:35 AM EDT

Anti-pollution rules may have uncertain effects. Scientists have found that air pollution regulations issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may not be as effective as believed.

In this latest study, the researchers analyzed the costs and expected lifesavings of nine regulations issued between 2011 and 2013. The bulk of these regulations require national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants. The analysis included the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards and the Cross State Air Pollution Rule.

The researchers estimated that the lives saved per year range from none to more than 80,000 per year. This range reflects uncertainty about the health effects of fine particles, and the possibility that airborne exposures to fine particles do not increase mortality risks. While the higher bound for lives saved is comparable to estimates by the EPA, the possibility of lower estimates is not reflected in the standard EPA analyses of these regulations.

The new findings are based on a re-evaluation of an EPA-sponsored "expert elicitation" study conducted in 2006. This study surveyed the opinion of experts about the health effects of fine particle exposures.

Since 2006, though, the EPA has used other methods to assess expert opinion. However, the researchers in this latest study recommend updating the 2006 elicitation study to reflect additional experience with the method and new scientific knowledge.

The findings reveal the importance of updating information as more scientific knowledge is gained. More specifically, it shows that when it comes to regulations, there may not be as drastic of an effect on health as once thought.

The findings are published in the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis.

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