Trump’s “open license to pollute” could prove fatal as exposure to air pollution increases risk of death from COVID-19
Last month, Trump’s administration rolled back several environmental laws and fines during the coronavirus pandemic. According to new guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), companies will be exempt from consequences for polluting the air or water during the outbreak.
Companies are not expected to adhere to environmental standards or report pollution during this time and the EPA will not pursue penalties if companies break the rules. Prior to Trump’s indefinite suspension of environmental protection laws, companies were to report when they release certain levels of pollution into the air or water.
The relaxation of environmental regulations could prove fatal for thousands. Scientists have learned that long-term exposure to microscopic air emissions — including those from power plants, wood pellet facilities, and quarries — is a risk factor for dying from COVID-19.
Harvard University researchers analyzed 17 years’ worth of data for 3,000 US counties, comprising 98% of the population, through April 4. The study concluded that even a small increase in long-term exposure to a type of pollutant known as PM2.5 “leads to a large increase in COVID-19 death rate — 20 times that observed for PM2.5 and mortality from all causes.”
PM2.5 is shorthand for invisible solid and liquid particles that are smaller than 2.5 microns; for comparison, a human hair is 30 microns.
Since PM2.5 is so tiny, it easily burrows deep into the lungs, where it can cause or contribute to premature death in people with heart or lung disease, non-fatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, and increased respiratory symptoms such as inflammation, airway irritations, coughing, or difficulty breathing
Because PM2.5 exposure can weaken heart and lung function, it can also increase the severity of COVID-19 symptoms and the risk of death.
The findings were consistent, even after researchers adjusted for population size, hospital beds, number of individuals tested, weather, and socioeconomic and behavioral variables including obesity and smoking.
The removal of restrictions comes as experts warn the coronavirus pandemic is unequally devastating communities of color that have been disproportionately burdened by pollution.
In January, the Trump administration also removed pollution controls on streams and wetlands, essentially eroding clean water protections that will pose substantial new risks to people’s health and the environment. The Obama-era regulations were intended to protect rivers, streams, wetlands and other bodies of water from pollution and runoff from industrial facilities and agriculture.
Trump continues to push for rolling back climate change policies in an effort to remove almost 100 rules and regulations that had limited industrial pollution of smog, toxic chemicals, greenhouse gases and water contaminants. According to the New York Times, in the past three years, Trump’s administration has revised or eliminated more than 90 environmental rules that were the government’s biggest effort to combat climate change.
The pandemic is hitting already vulnerable communities and with environmental regulations that protected these communities’ health removed, thousands may be feeling stuck.
Vulnerable communities across the country are suffering a disproportionate burden from the impact of Covid-19, and the importance of continuing to enforce existing pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis, is paramount.