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When it comes to particulate matter in the atmosphere, the environmental lobby and the EPA will generally offer some version of the following: “Medical research shows that particulate matter – especially very small particles – can cause serious illnesses and even death. People who suffer from respiratory diseases, the very old the very young are especially at risk.”
It is true that medical research of this type does exist, but it would be impossible to eliminate all particulate matter from the air. If you shut down every man-made source of particulate matter tomorrow, natural processe
s would ensure that there was some amount of particulate matter in the atmosphere. As the amount of particulate matter generated by man goes down, as it has for the last forty years, it therefore becomes a less significant part of the whole. So rather than declaring “particulate matter is bad, therefore we should always reduce emissions” we should be asking ourselves if further incremental reductions in certain sectors of our economy are worth the investment. In other words we should be doing a risk/reward analysis, something environmental groups are loathe to do and that the EPA is prohibited from doing by law.
Of course that doesn’t stop the EPA from attempting to do their own version of risk/reward analysis, one that deftly avoids the troublesome issue of opportunity costs, one that ignores the impact of passing compliance costs along to consumers and one that uses the dubious concept of attaching a monetary value to lives prolonged (no matter how little time) in order to cancel out any red ink associated with a new rule.
The risks associated with particulate emissions are increasingly overblown, though few seem to realize that is the case. The incomparable William M. Briggs (“Statistician to the Stars!’) Go to his October 30 post, entitled: “A Case Of Failed Peer Review: Dust And Death”. It’s as good a send up of the way that regulatory agencies and environmental groups tag-team to undermine good science and sound public policy as I have read. Consider as well the fact that the vast majority of Americans are exposed to far more particulates inside the home than they are outside.
But, perhaps you are still terribly worried about particulate matter in the air. First, let’s look at where it comes from. Today, the EPA regulates particulate matter of two types: PM-10 (particulate matter less than 10 microns in size) and PM-2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in size).
Here are nationwide sources of PM-10 emissions:
What are “Miscellaneous Sources”? That’s the catch all for all sources that are neither industrial nor mobile. It includes things like consumer products, natural sources, agricultural activities, etc.
Anyway, here are PM-2.5 emission sources:
Perhaps you are wondering how much of a problem particulate emissions really are these days? Well, here’s a map showing the areas that violate the EPA’s PM-10 standard for ambient air:
And here’s one showing the areas that violate the PM-2.5 standard:
You may now draw your own conclusions.