The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided it will end a scientific review panel that advises the agency on safety and health standards surrounding certain kinds of air pollution.
Made up of doctors, researchers, and other experts, the 20-person Particulate Matter Review Panel works to provide guidelines on particulate matter (PM) – tiny solid particles found in the air, such as soot – known to cause respiratory and other health issues. The panel will be replaced by the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), a seven-member group established in 1977 under the Clean Air Act to address “research related to air quality, sources of air pollution, and the strategies to attain and maintain air quality standards.” CASAC will be legally required to advise the EPA administrator on quality standards beginning in 2019.
In an emailed statement, the EPA confirmed to IFLScience that the review panel was not listed to continue in 2019.
“Consistent with the Clean Air Act and CASAC’s charter, Acting Administrator Wheeler tasked the seven-member chartered CASAC to serve as the body to review key science assessments for the ongoing review of the particulate matter and ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS),” an EPA spokesperson told IFLScience.
At the time of publication, IFLScience did not receive a follow-up response from the EPA about what prompted the decision or how CASAC will differ from the previous review panel.
Under NAAQS, the EPA must revisit and advise on six air standards every year, including establishing guidelines on carbon monoxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, lead, and ozone. The Union of Concerned Scientists voiced its concern in a blog post, writing that the removal of the panel is a “break with how the agency has always done things.” The work of the panel is not required by law to provide expertise on particulate matter, according to the New York Times, and critics of the move say reducing the 20-person panel to just a hand-picked few will limit its breadth of expertise.
“By nixing these panels, the EPA would be cutting off vital expertise it needs to get the science right on the health effects of pollutants,” the organization wrote.
Andrew Wheeler, the EPA’s acting administrator, said he stands by the decision in a statement announcing five replacements that will advise on NAAQS. “These experts will provide critical scientific advice to EPA as it evaluates where to set national standards for key pollutants like ozone and particulate matter,” he said.
Under a Presidential Memorandum last April, the EPA laid out principles to reform the process for setting NAAQS, which included differentiating “science and policy considerations in the NAAQS review process” and issuing “timely implementation rules of guidance following [their] revision.”
Air pollution has long been known as a culprit behind asthma and other respiratory issues. Recent research indicates links to other health concerns, including dementia and mouth cancer risk, and has been shown to cross into a mother’s placenta via the bloodstream.