As an avid reader of the New York Times, it pains me greatly to read about a familiar subject that has so many errors and misconceptions. Especially when COVID-19's impact on society is being discussed.
Without a doubt, our world is now quieter since sheltering began, and we can imagine that the air smells sweeter. These are good things but purchased at the terrible costs of COVID-19 suffering and death and devastation of the global economy. The environmental scientist in me thought about lessons to be learned from our present situation.
"Although the epidemiology of COVID-19 is evolving, we have determined that there is a large overlap between causes of deaths of COVID-19 patients and the diseases that are affected by long-term exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5).” It is a great leap from overlap to claiming PM2.5 results in "excess" mortality from COVID-19. But what the heck, why let the fear generated by COVID-19 go to waste?
PM2.5 designates a near-ubiquitous air-polluting particle that frequently appears in the scientific literature as well as popular press news items. But few of us really know what they are talking about, mainly because it is just one characteristic of a complex category.
Air pollution remains a contentious issue. While everyone is in favor of cleaner air, there is less unanimity over which pollutants, in what concentrations, can harm our health. The linkage between air pollution and disease is beset with problems of accurately identifying a dose-response (a biologic gradient), a clear temporal connection, and, most importantly, biologic plausibility – how does a pollutant cause a disease.
The “pivotal regulatory science” used in setting air pollution standards are epidemiological studies measuring the effects of particulate matter on our health. The recently proposed changes to improve the transparency of regulatory science at the EPA have brought these studies to the fore.
Cosmetics and cleaners are not the great Satan of atmospheric pollution that the media suggests. But why let facts get in the way of a good story?
It's no secret that air pollution is bad news (but no longer in the U.S.). It's also no secret that people write sensationalized junk that poses as science to drive home a point or support an agenda. Today we're having a two-for-one special. You get both. And no – small particulate matter does not affect IQ. This is beyond ridiculous.