Opinion: Trump is bad for the environment
From 1987–1991 I was a National Cancer Institute Epidemiology Fellow at Columbia University School of Public Health in a research group that is now the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, studying how air pollutants cause cancer. Our research group looked at various biological markers of the earliest causes of cancer, including mutations, oncogenes, and DNA adducts (organic pollutants bonded to DNA leading to mutations that may cause cancer).
Our principal investigator, Frederica Perera, has been doing ground-breaking research for 40 years to understand the interaction between environmental exposures, cancer and toxicity for children. She has contributed much of the science that informs and updates the Clean Air Act. Dr. Perera and her associates continue to advocate for sensible, evidence-based regulations that are protective of public health, especially of children.
Now, Presient Trump’s EPA is issuing a new order that would significantly limit the use of previously published and independently peer-reviewed scientific studies of health effects of pollution. This new rule will require scientists to provide all their raw data, much of which is confidential medical records and information, for the EPA to re-review their studies. The rule also applies to previously published studies and the regulations promulgated as a result of these studies. This is like imposing an umpire for the umpire at a baseball game.
The amount of time and money required to execute this review is huge. Delay can only benefit polluting and fossil fuel industries. This further justifies the EPA’s rescinding and loosening of rules, like the Clean Air Act (1963) and the Clean Water Act (1972), which have been so successful in limiting human exposure to known toxins and cancer-causing chemicals. Before President Trump, the Clean Air Act also limited exposure to particularly dangerous small particulates, (pm 2.5) known to cause respiratory distress, such as asthma and sudden death. (Harvard’s Six Cities Study, 1993; American Cancer Society, 1995)
Under the new rules, when regulations come up for renewal, the Trump EPA can reject these regulations until the EPA has again validated published research about the harm from the resultant exposures. With regards to children, this will include regulations about lead and mercury and their toxic effects on children’s developing brains. The EPA wants to re-evaluate well-established science. We should not be sacrificing another generation of children to the profit-driven desires of the chemical and fossil fuel industry.
EPA’s director, Andrew Wheeler, responds to criticism by scientists and public health experts by saying this rule will allow independent analysis of conclusions. Mr. Wheeler demonstrates a willful ignorance of the scientific process. Every one of these studies was subjected to the most rigorous peer review by scientists trained in the specific field of research being reported. These reviewers ARE the experts, with no axe to grind save publishing important research that has been vetted for methodology, statistical robustness, and conclusions. Most public health, medical, scientific, and environmental groups have roundly criticized the EPA’s new direction.
We are witnessing another manifestation of the Trump administration’s abandonment of the search for truth, and an embrace of ignorance and conspiracy theory. Some EPA political appointees and advisors are climate change deniers, and doubt the hazard of such exposures as second hand smoke or air pollution. EPA Director Wheeler, a political appointee, wants to be the U.S. Science Czar, deciding which studies to accept and which to reject. He is uniquely unqualified for this endeavor and beholden to the very companies he is supposed to be regulating.
We are now being reminded of the bad old days, when industry was unregulated and Americans paid the price, often with their lives. Pollution disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income communities. Here is yet another example of the anomaly of the Trump presidency — this time violating basic principles of public health and safety.
As a pediatrician, I take this assault both personally and seriously. I am reminded of the Joni Mitchell song, “Big Yellow Taxi” — “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.”
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