NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 19, 2006

There's no question that air pollution kills, but today's fears are centered on the extent to which current, far lower air pollution levels can be harmful, says Joel Schwartz of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

For example:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently implemented tough new standards for ozone and soot that will cost at least an additional $100 billion per year -- or about $1,000 per household -- and the agency plans to clamp down still further in the future.
  • However, the EPA attributes well over 90 percent of the benefits of its clean air programs to improvements in human health; thus, a key policy question is whether EPA's health-benefit claims are credible.
  • For instance, going from 2002 ozone levels, which were by far the highest of the past several years, to nationwide compliance will reduce respiratory-related hospital admissions and emergency room visits by no more than a few tenths of a percent.


  • Claims of an air pollution-asthma link by health experts have also been undermined by recent research; while the prevalence of asthma has nearly doubled, air pollution has sharply declined at the same time, making air pollution an implausible culprit.
  • The most serious claim about air pollution is that it prematurely kills tens of thousands of Americans each year.

Even though the latter is not true it would be nice if we didn't have to give up anything in order to achieve additional reductions in air pollution, but in the real world, the costs of air pollution control mean higher prices, lower wages and lower returns on investments, says Schwartz.

Source: Joel Schwartz, "Getting Real on Air Pollution and Health," Washington Post, June 14, 2006

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