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Policy: Environment & Energy

EPA's secret gas chamber experiments: A deceitful failure

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Opinion,Ron Arnold,Columnists,EPA,Energy and Environment,Air Pollution,Science

A man — we’ll call him “Subject No. 1” — had a clear plastic pipe stuck into his mouth with his lips sealed around it, while the diesel exhaust from a parked truck outside the gas chamber was mixed with particulate matter and pumped straight into his lungs. The pumped mixture level was 135 times the mean diesel truck emissions exposure in the United States.

Scientists Andrew Ghio, Jon Sobus, Joachim Pleil and Michael Madden, with laboratory director Wayne Cascio, administered this toxic mix of diesel and particulate matter to 41 people. In all, they gassed 81 subjects with various mixes of diesel, particulate and ozone in five different experiments — tagged with the science fiction-like names Omegacon, Xcon, Kingcon, Depoz and Lamarck.

No, these are not mad scientists from some 1930s D-list horror movie; they're employees of the Environmental Protection Agency who used human subjects in an air pollution test chamber at the EPA's Human Studies Facility in Chapel Hill, N.C., in 2010 and 2011.

The consent form that volunteers signed for the Omegacon cocktail pumped into Subject No. 1 lacked the warning that particulate exposure can cause death in older people with cardiovascular disease. EPA accepted a 58-year old woman with Stage 1 hypertension, premature atrial contractions, osteoarthritis, gall bladder removal and a family history of heart disease. EPA’s scientists were humane enough to turn off the gas when she suffered atrial fibrillation, and hospitalized her overnight for observation.

The quintet of EPA gas chamber experimenters were producing risk assessment studies ordered by then-agency head Lisa Jackson to justify the Obama administration's push for crushing new clean air regulations, which they claimed would prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths each year by reducing emissions.

Jackson testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee with a flight of fancy so hallucinatory that she was asked to say it twice: “If we could reduce particulate matter to healthy levels, it would have the same impact as finding a cure for cancer in our country.”

That's the bureaucratic equivalent of Tom Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah's couch.

During the same clown show, Jackson testified, “Particulate matter causes premature death. It doesn’t make you sick. It’s directly causal to dying sooner than you should.”

Don't try to figure that out. It appears to mean that particulates kill on contact, but since we're not all dead, it's probably just a case of Obamanoia. Jackson didn't use such mind-mush on Bill Maher's TV talk show; she simply said, “Don't breathe the air, it might kill you.”

When Steve Milloy, dogged muckraker of JunkScience.com, obtained the 41 Omegacon diesel-and-PM results through the Freedom of Information Act, he discovered that the gas chamber scientists killed none of the study subjects, but stopped two tests when subjects “experienced adverse events” that were likely explained by causes other than particulates, and generally found that the deadly pollutant turned out to be not so bad for you after all.

Lisa Jackson knew all that when she fed Congress her brain rot, and so did her replacement, current agency head Gina McCarthy, when she said much the same to Congress as an underling.

Typical. EPA had hidden the experiments and the results from Congress and the public. The stink that arose from the unveiling had immediate consequences.

It launched a lawsuit against EPA and a congressionally requested investigation by the agency's top cop, EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr., who released his findings March 31.

I was able to tell you most of the above because it’s in his report, “Improvements to EPA Policies and Guidance Could Enhance Protection of Human Study Subjects.” Forty-six pages of uber-technical charts, graphs and jargon ended up with, “The EPA can enhance its human studies by improving how it obtains approval for studies; how it communicates risk to people who participate in EPA studies; and how it addresses adverse events in its guidance.”

Without a hint of irony, inspector general Elkins ended with the reassurance, “All recommendations have been resolved.”

The best part of this EPA episode was an email dialogue with the congressman who requested the inspector general's report, Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight.

I asked Broun about his views on the EPA’s behavior and got this email reply: “I have had grave concerns over the science emanating from EPA for several years. In 2011, I wrote a letter to the Obama administration highlighting troubling scientific practices EPA uses to justify numerous Clean Air Act rules. One of those concerns involved baseless and unscientific comments from former EPA Administrator Jackson claiming that reductions in particulate matter would equal finding a cure for cancer.”

We all gagged on Jackson’s surreal blather, but what did Broun expect from Elkins’ work? He said, “The IG report should open people’s eyes to the duplicity within EPA: if exposure to diesel exhaust, particulate matter and ozone is as dangerous as EPA’s public proclamations, then it subjected 81 people to lethal pollutants.”

I replied, “You’re an M.D. — didn’t that rankle?” Evidently it did. He said, “As a physician, I find it deplorable that EPA risked the health of humans by conducting experiments with cancer-causing pollutants. And worse, EPA failed to consistently represent the associated risks of exposure to these chemicals to the volunteers.”

Well, America, rest easy. All that has been resolved.

You believe that, don't you?

RON ARNOLD, a Washington Examiner columnist, is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.
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