Man who believes current air quality is 'too clean' named to US Environmental Protection Agency advisory board

EPA Director Scott Pruitt has named 66 new experts to three different EPA scientific committees

Emily Shugerman
New York
Saturday 04 November 2017 22:46 GMT
Scott Pruitt
Scott Pruitt (Getty)

A man who once claimed that the air in America was "a little too clean for optimum health", has been appointed to an advisory board of America's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Robert Phalen once claimed that children’s lungs need to breathe irritants so their bodies can learn to fight them.

The former director of the Air Pollution Health Effects Laboratory at the University of California Irvine was appointed to the agency’s critical Scientific Advisory Board by EPA Director Scott Pruitt.

Mr Pruitt has recently removed all the scientists who receive grant money from the agency.

Speaking to the the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2012, Mr Phalen told the audience: “Modern air is a little too clean for optimum health.”

Mr Phalen has also argued that the risks associated with modern particulate matter are “very small and confounded by many factors”.

In a 2004 study, he wrote that, “neither toxicology studies nor human clinical investigations have identified the components and/or characteristics of [particulate matter] that might be causing the health-effect associations”.

The appointment is part of Mr Pruitt’s plan to promote advisers who are “financially independent” from the agency.

He has barred scientists who receive grant money from the EPA from serving on its advisory boards, saying he will instead focus on “fresh perspectives” and “geographical representation”.

As a result, Mr Pruitt has placed 66 new experts on three different EPA scientific committees, according to the Washington Post. Several of these experts come from industries that the agency regulates. New advisers hail from companies such as Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble, and the French petroleum company Total.

The committees also include current and former members of the American Chemistry Council – the primary trade and lobbying group for the chemical industry. Mr Pruitt is scheduled to give a speech the Council’s annual board meeting next week.

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While Mr Pruitt says his new policy is meant to prevent conflicts of interest, others claim it will only promote them.

“Pruitt is turning the idea of ‘conflict of interest’ on its head,” Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Centre for Science and Democracy at the Union for Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. “He claims federal research grants should exclude a scientist from an EPA advisory board but industry funding shouldn’t.”

He added: “The consequences of these decisions aren’t just bad for a few scientists. This could mean that there’s no independent voice ensuring that EPA follows the science on everything from drinking water pollution to atmospheric chemical exposure.”

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