The debate over the health risks of air pollution may be over, but the discussion goes on.
A Brigham Young University professor and a Geneva Steel vice president lambasted each other's studies on the cause of respiratory illnesses Thursday during a clean-air symposium for pre-medicine students and community residents at the university.C. Arden Pope, an associate professor of economics and author of two studies linking hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses to fine particulate pollution (PM10) from Geneva Steel, said the results of his and other studies on air pollution are "compelling."
"Respirable particulate pollution, at levels equal to and even less than those commonly experienced in Utah Valley, contributes to the incidence and severity of respirable disease," Pope said. "In short, and simply stated, PM10 pollution plays a role in increasing the risk of getting sick and of dying of respiratory disease."
Pope said that unlike the risks of smoking or drug and alcohol abuse, the "risks associated with air pollution are imposed upon all of us without our consent. We have the right, even the obligation to make every responsible effort to clean up our air."
Pope is currently working on five new research studies that continue an examination of the health effects of air pollution.
Richard D. Clayton, Geneva Steel vice president for environment and special projects, told the audience the steel mill recognizes its corporate responsibility and is voluntarily doing everything it can to reduce its PM10 emissions. Geneva is spending $80 million on four environmental projects, including installation of two basic oxygen furnaces that will replace the open hearth operation and a coke oven gas sulfur removal system.
But Clayton challenged Pope's research findings, saying it is the respiratory syncytial virus, not PM10, that is associated with peaks in hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses. Dr. Steven Lamm, an epidemiologist hired by Geneva, identified a link between the virus and hospital admissions in 1989 but has not yet published his research.
The link between the virus and hospital admissions is most clearly demonstrated by the fact that admissions for bronchitis peak before PM10 levels peak, Clayton said.
Pope responded by saying that a reviewer of his most recent study called Lamm's study on respiratory syncytial virus a "joke".
Clayton said making "unfounded claims" about the health risks of air pollution in Utah County was not "helpful," particularly since Geneva, the largest source of PM10 pollution, is doing its part to clear the air.
Two noted researchers asked to evaluate Pope and Archer's studies by BYU professor Cory Teuscher gave the studies endorsements.
One of those researchers, Dr. D.V. Bates, a professor emeritus of medicine at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said the research shows health effects occur below the current PM10 standard and could lead to a reconsideration of that standard.