In Depth

Clever use of public data could sidestep new rule

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Science  04 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6388, pp. 473
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6388.473

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Critics of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) move last week to limit the agency's use of nonpublic data say it is a thinly veiled effort to prevent regulators from drawing on public health studies that have proved pivotal to justifying tougher air pollution limits. Recently, however, one research team has demonstrated what could be a way around the policy. They used publicly available data to produce high-quality findings on the ills of pollution that EPA's new policy might not be able to quash. In one study, researchers used publicly accessible air pollution data and records compiled by the federal government's Medicare health insurance program to show that even modest pollution reductions could save more than 10,000 lives per year. In another, they linked short-term exposure to air pollution levels below current limits to premature death among the elderly. They are some of the largest and most statistically sophisticated studies of dirty air's health impacts, says air pollution specialists. The question now is whether EPA will include them in an upcoming review of air pollution standards.