Energy & Environment

GOP lawmaker seeks review of Harvard study tying air pollution to coronavirus deaths

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A Maryland lawmaker is asking for a government review of a Harvard University public health study linking air pollution with coronavirus death.

The widely reported April study found parts of the country with a higher prevalence of fine particulate matter, or soot, had an increase in coronavirus deaths.

While the researchers initially found that an increase in air pollution of 1 gram per cubic meter of fine particulate matter led to as much as a 15-percent spike in death rates among patients in those areas, it updated its study about two weeks later, dropping the figure to an 8-percent increase in the death rate.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) wrote a letter Friday asking both the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the study.

“I request that you and/or your agencies’ appropriate advisory bodies undertake a review of the Harvard study and the current state of understanding regarding the relationship between air quality and Covid-19,” Harris wrote. 

Harris said in an ideal world, a peer review of the study would be performed, “but the urgent and rapidly evolving nature of the pandemic is ill-served by a months-long journal review process.”

HHS did not respond to request for comment, but Harvard said it had updated the study to account for new information. 

“As public health professionals at the time of a pandemic, we are continuing to update our analyses accounting for the most recent number of deaths. Also since the release of the previous report on April 5, we have accounted for a larger number of confounding factors,” the university said in an email. 

Harris’s letter said the review of the study is needed after environmental groups referenced it when suing the EPA for suspending enforcement of pollution monitoring due to coronavirus.

EPA did not commit to reviewing the study. 

“We are reviewing the letter and will respond through proper channels.Drawing conclusions from a study without peer review and with insufficient data is irresponsible and paints a distorted scientific picture,” the agency said in a statement.

Updated at 5:48 p.m.

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