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Follow Up To Air Pollution Scare Story

August 17, 2017

By Paul Homewood




A few follow-ups on the air pollution story.



Long Term Pollution Trends

First, the official pollutant trends from DEFRA:





We can see that emissions of most pollutants have fallen sharply since the 1990s and earlier, notably NOx and PMs.

If 40,000 people really are dying of air pollution, I hate to think how many were in the 1970s!

DEFRA also show progression towards the international Gothenberg standards. NOx is already well below the 2010 target, and both NOx and PMs are close to achieving the 2020 one.





Analysis From University of Cambridge

Back in February, the Winton Centre published its own pretty damning analysis of the Royal College of Physicians study:


Does air pollution kill 40,000 people each year in the UK?

Air pollution is news. The Daily Mail claims that Air pollution is ‘killing 40,000 a year in the UK’ Greenpeace says 40,000 lives were cut short by air pollution in the U.K., while the Guardian reports Air pollution crisis ‘plagues’ UK, finds UN human rights expert. But where does the 40,000 figure come from, what does it mean, and is there really a ‘crisis’? I discovered that digging down to the basis for this figure required some statistical detective work, so brace yourself for some forensic details…

Where the ‘40,000’ comes from

The number itself was rather easy to find: it comes from a 2016 report Every Breath We Take: the Lifelong Impact of Air Pollution by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), in which they state

Each year, inhaling particulates causes around 29,000 deaths in the UK, which, on recent evidence, may rise to around 40,000 deaths when also considering nitrogen dioxide exposure



In turn, these estimates are derived from a 2009 report by Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP)

The Winton study goes on to reveal the huge uncertainties around the projections, which even the COMEAP acknowledged.

In particular, the COMEAP conclusions are mainly based on one paper by Pope et al in 2002, which examined around 500,000 adults in the US. Although Pope estimated a 6% increase in annual mortality risk per 10 mPM (10 ‘micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter), damningly the COMEAP points out that Pope made no allowance for socio-economic status, something that would be expected to have a major impact on mortality.

Other studies come up with drastically different conclusions. For instance, the WHO estimate only 16,000 attributable deaths in the UK from air pollution.

And, as Winton point out, these are not actual, counted deaths, as the RCP fraudulently claim. The most that can be argued is that air pollution makes existing illnesses worse. So, for instance, somebody dying of lung cancer may die slightly earlier than otherwise.



New US Study

As mentioned above, the claim of 40000 deaths is largely based around one study in the US.

This year, a new study, “Air Quality and Acute Deaths in California, 2000 – 2012”, by Young, Smith & Lopiano has concluded that there is no link between PM2.5 and acute deaths.




Steve Milloy’s recent book, Scare Pollution: Why and How to Fix the EPA, is a reminder of just how the issue of air pollution has been overhyped and politicised lately.

The highly political report by the RCP is just one more example.

  1. August 17, 2017 12:12 pm

    “6% increase in annual mortality risk per 10 mPM (10 ‘micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter”
    Lies damned lies and statistics
    Incidentally premature is a funny word. If and old dying man is deemed to have died 10 days sooner than he would have without pm2.5 it counts as a premature death.

  2. Dung permalink
    August 17, 2017 12:54 pm

    The range of issues about which the government are willing to lie to us(so as to pertsuade us to allow them freedom to do what they like) is so staggering that I seriously find it hard to accept.

    • Dung permalink
      August 17, 2017 12:56 pm

      still find it hard to believe.

      • A C Osborn permalink
        August 17, 2017 1:16 pm

        I would be staggered to find something that they actually tell the truth about!

      • tom0mason permalink
        August 17, 2017 6:18 pm

        “When I were a lad we had smog so thick you could cut it wid t’knife.”
        “Bread knife?”
        “You were lucky! We never had bread, or t’breadknife.”


        We ‘ad pollution so thick it’s ppm number were so big that you ‘ad to go t’infirmary for a turn on the iron lungs to ‘elp you breath before going down t’pit. 44,022 people were kills by’ut thick air pollution from all they rich folk’s cars and fires. More sulfur than in the air than in t’12volt battery and tasted nearly as bad, and burned yer hair off….”

        “Aye lad, aye.
        And you try telling the kids today….”

    • Derek Buxton permalink
      August 17, 2017 2:50 pm

      So do I, I have lived too long to believe figures of this magnitude. At 84 I have been breathing in God knows what from the air until the Clean Air Act in the fifties, but then in industry from then on.

      • August 17, 2017 6:03 pm

        Ah, but Derek, if you had not breathed it all in, you would only be 74 now!!

  3. Jack Broughton permalink
    August 17, 2017 1:06 pm

    The whole health-physics field is a sewer of statistical sophistry. In this case, like global warming proofs, it assumes that if a claim is made repeatedly it must be true. Medical statistical analyses are similar to the global warming in another way: claims cannot be easily proven or disproven. Normally a percentage accuracy range is also expressed, implying pure science.

    This type of junk-science is ideal for politicians and journos as they can use them to scare the populace – and justify wild policies / taxes.

    In my view, unless a direct cause / effect is demonstrated and is testable (other than by dubious graphical correlations), it ought to be treated as the hypothesis that it is. Separating pollution form the myriad causes of illness / death is a nonsense apart from where the problem is acute (London 1950s / China now) and that does not need meta-analysis to prove the cause / effect relationship.

    The sad unwanted consequence of this dishonest science is that money is spent on projects that return little benefit at the expense of those that could work. Traditionally pollution reduction followed a system called BATNEEC = Best Available Technology Not Entailing Excessive Costs, but this has been replaced by hyperbole.

    • Tim Hammond permalink
      August 17, 2017 4:53 pm

      The solution is simple and has existed since the field of epidemiology began – only if the risks can be shown to be doubled (or halved) should researchers claim a positive result. That was the view of Doll and the others who helped establish the science.

      The trouble is, that using that criterion, almost nothing can be shown to be a problem, other than cigarettes, high doses of radiation and few other things. But who, having spent years becoming an epidemiologists, is willing to admit their field is pointless?

      And of course far too few politicians and far too few journalists understand the basic jargon used, let alone what should constitute a positive result or not. They see tiny increased risks and demand “something must be done.”

      • Nigel S permalink
        August 17, 2017 5:06 pm

        Spotted the half/double limits advice on ‘junkscience’, it seems a good guide to a mere chartered engineer.

    • Nigel S permalink
      August 17, 2017 5:02 pm

      Replaced by BAT****, which of course also has to be allowed to foul the interior walls of listed churches for fear of upsetting the bats (and a criminal prosecution for even trying to get them to roost safely elsewhere).

  4. fretslider permalink
    August 17, 2017 5:26 pm

    Many moons ago when I was an undergrad, spotting manipulated charts was part of the learning curve.

    My favourite example was the correlation between the rise in diagnoses of mental illness with the rise in radio licence ownership in the 1930s.

    Today’s sainted white coats would tell you that having a radio drives you mad

  5. August 17, 2017 6:19 pm

    This analysis from Euan Mearns goes into all the ‘40,000 deaths’ business in some detail, and concludes:

    ‘So where does the truth lie? If we believe the data, and there are good reasons for not doing so, we can say that anthropogenic PM2.5 in the UK reduces life expectancy in the UK by between 1 month and 1 year. 6% of this can be attributed to diesel cars from which I surmise that PM2.5 from diesel cars reduces life expectancy by between 2 and 22 days. How does this get turned into PM2.5 pollution from diesel cars killing 29,000 / year?’

    So where does the truth lie? At a guess, climate spin doctors want diesel cars off the road to make way for electric ones. Cue bad press for diesels.

    • Jack Broughton permalink
      August 17, 2017 6:27 pm

      Most of the PM2.5 has been shown to be wind driven, not to mention that monitoring even of PM10 only started a few years ago and is of dubious accuracy.
      Victory for the spin doctors, truth is so yesterday???

  6. Athelstan permalink
    August 17, 2017 9:25 pm

    MORE BOY, MORE? more fake noos from HMG…………blimey whodathunked it?

    Just how will, we ever believe them [the ruling elite] when they actually deign to spout some truthfulness?

    a rhetorical question…….

    A. never will TPTB tell any truths, if…………………….. you cannot recognize a statement of the truth in the first place.

  7. David Richardson permalink
    August 17, 2017 10:07 pm

    The Prof who started all this BS off was given free ride by the BBC (nothing new there then) but one BBC interviewer did get him to admit that a large chunk of these folk would die a week early!!!

    Air pollution is an important topic but as you say Paul, its being getting better not worse.

    But as always facts don’t matter its the message that counts.

  8. August 17, 2017 10:23 pm

    The provenance of the numbers is irrelevant and very deliberately obfuscated for the most part by the most vocal repeaters of the convenient “facts” – and most visitors here well know who the usual suspects are… – and exasperatingly – those usual suspects are not presently amenable to rational, evidenced challenges – for they are driven by rabid self interest and narrow ideological obsessions.

    Something’s got to give.

  9. August 17, 2017 11:07 pm

    Anyone see LookNorth tonight pushing the Biofuelwatch report dissing Drax ?
    BioFuelwatch /ClientEarth tricky PR guys did this
    ..”Drax now putting out twice as much particulate pollution as before ”
    Enviro correspondent @BBCPaulMurphy, went on for 5 minutes
    explaining “according to a new report by Biofuel watch Drax particulate emissions are 135% that of when only burning coal”

    Ironically on the same day in the Times
    The Drax/GranthanInstitute tricky PR guys fedout this flaky report
    “EVs are twice as green ” (cos now we have more renewable power than 5 years ago)

    See the contadiction between them
    #1 Drax flaky claim that Drax powered EVs are twice as green *
    is matched by
    #2 Biofuelwatch claim same Drax powered EVs cause twice as high particulates

    BBC tweeted Draxes reply with a darkened photo

    • August 17, 2017 11:15 pm

      The Biofuelwtch briefing also says

      “we know that burning wood is * the largest source of particulate air pollution nationwide*
      , yet the Government are pouring money into these schemes without any proper assessment of the public health impacts, and with air pollution already a major health crisis in this country.”

      • Athelstan permalink
        August 17, 2017 11:46 pm

        the solution is of course more green ‘investment’ and more EUrope and people will soon reap the whirlwind of very expensive energy, no jobs and ah but BUT they’ll have very clean fresh air……………

        Drax!…………….oh wait……………..

  10. Bitter&twisted permalink
    August 18, 2017 6:36 am

    Canadian Professor, Ross McKitrick, also called this “40,000 early deaths” rubbish.
    (as reported on this site)

    McKitrick on Air Pollution: The models get ‘more deaths from air pollution than you were death from all causes’ – ‘Particulates and soot are at such low levels in the U.S. — levels well below what they were in the 1970s. The health claims at this point are groundless coming from this administration.

    I noticed these numbers coming up for Ontario for how many deaths were caused by air pollution. What struck me — was knowing that air pollution levels were very low in Ontario — but they were extremely high in 1960s. So I took the same model and fed in the 1960s air pollution levels into it: How many deaths would you get? I did the calculations and you quickly get more deaths from air pollution than you were death from all causes.

    In other words, the streets would have been littered with bodies from air pollution if it was actually that lethal. The problem with all of these models is they are not based on an actual examination of death certificates or looking at what people actually died of — these are just statistical models where people have a spreadsheet and they take in an air pollution level and it pops out a number of deaths. But there are no actual bodies there, it is all just extrapolation.’

  11. Europeanonion permalink
    August 18, 2017 8:14 am

    They must be feeding a requirement. Latching onto people’s concerns about climate change and trying to find a measure that will show the prognosis graphically. There is, of course, an obvious danger that, as with any mania, soon the person of no principal and no actual knowledge will grab the issue and use messianic means to further themselves The seer will make a case for their ownership of the matter no matter what their real understanding. I find that really troubling and it plays more and more towards the Puritan ideology that once before in our history showed a mastery of all things and even saw sense in beheading a king.

    No one can incur criticism for seemingly wanting to do good. Excessive good though becomes a stricture which has the ability to deny science and practicality. My sister in Australia can give you chapter and verse about the Great Barrier Reef’s demise and can be authoritative in its cause. She can become quite het up to the point of being quite aggressive in the definite and attributable damage being done. In fact she is so assured in her own mind that it is a case of challenging her argument being a challenge to our relationship! So best that she is left to her own devices (as we do with so many people of her persuasion).

    She emigrated to Australia so I would have thought that if she is really concerned about man’s intervention in nature and its outcome (so she says) then it would be better that she left Australia as a token demonstration of her thesis, to not endanger the natural fauna and flora of that country more than needs be. Her presence there, using her argument, is the fly in the ointment. Leave now!

  12. August 18, 2017 11:45 am

    I grew up in the home and 5-acre property which I now own in Morgantown, WV. We had beehive coke ovens outside of town. I can remember going out Rte. 7 from Dellslow to see them at night near the road.

    There were also “gob piles” of coal tailings. These would catch on fire by spontaneous combustion and smolder for years. The burned out material, known as red dog, was put on dirt roads to fill in potholes. It looked like volcanic pumice and was sharp. I skinned many a knee while running to Flatts Grade School playground for summer activities. Later they figured out how high they could pile the waste materials before it caught fire. A number of years ago, I went to a mall outside Pittsburgh. I thought it odd that it was surrounded by strange material. Then I realized, it was built on the site of the enormous gob pile at Elizabeth, PA. We passed it going to Pittsburgh on Rte. 51–a huge mountain of “gob.”

    We could not have porch furniture as it would quickly accumulate soot. Nylon and plastics would turn color. This was in the 1950’s. Pittsburgh, ca. 72 miles to the north, was full of steel mills. A shopping trip to Pittsburgh was to come back with dirty shirt collars, etc.

    My late father grew up in Butler, PA north of Pittsburgh and certainly had its share of “pollution”. Mother was from Grafton, WV, just south of Morgantown and a large railroad town. They lived to 88 and almost 95, respectively. Neither my parents, nor my 2 older brothers (one just turned 84), nor I have ever had any lung problems. None of us have ever smoked either.

    So if all these folks are dropping like flies, the reason is not air pollution–it was far worse in the past and we have survived without lung related problems.

    • Athelstan permalink
      August 18, 2017 12:51 pm

      Our political leaders, the cognoscenti, our medical self anointed ‘guardians’ the RCN, RCP and those tw*ts NICE are ponses devoted to swallowing great dosages of specious not to say overty lying statistics and virtue signalling to an equally ignorant sliver of so called public opinion – the echo chamber of dummies.

      Unintended consequences, in biofuels and elsewhere too………………. idiot policy begets unforeseen debilitation, disease, death.

      I am relieved to aver, that, I am no expert in pulmonary, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and that, this is only a personal and anecdotal observation.

      I have noticed and perhaps others can affirm it. That observing, travelling on public transport, sitting in cafes, flying on planes and in offices and shops – where one cannot help but cross paths with shall we say a slightly younger ‘set’.
      So many of these young kids have what my Ma would name as “a very nasty cough”, considering the expense of buying a packet of fags over here (equivalent ± $14 per pack] and the relative penury most of our youth suffer.

      I posit that they da youf innit, are smoking something else.

      It could be Skunk which doctors tell, infusing Skunk fumes into the lungs and then holding it – the crap in the Skunk weed is more deleterious than is tobacco smoking. Plus whatever else these kids inhale – not least cheap tobacco products from some very dire sources – God knows what goes into these black market cigarettess doubtless: na chemical phantasmogoria of poisons.

      Trying to stop kids smoking by price increases pricing them out of the market – has opened their lungs to another set of even more dangerous poisons.

      On air pollution, what a contrast to what people had to suffer until the clean air act of 1956, but if you think back to a little earlier, oil lamps, candles, smoking grates, ranges, hearths,tobacco smoking, damp houses, damp feet, damp beds, must, mites, spores and dust, insanitary conditions………….. by comparison, with today – there is none.

      Are we soft, gone soft or just soft.

      • Athelstan permalink
        August 18, 2017 12:51 pm


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