Thursday, June 22, 2006

Overkill: Regulating Lawn Mower Emissions

EPA expects to require catalytic converters for lawn mowers next year. Once again EPA will be forcing people to get less for their money than they would otherwise get; it will be forcing them to purchase a truly trivial environmental/”health” benefit instead of things on which they would prefer to spend their money if they were free to do so. And it will be diverting human energy, technology and manufacturing capabilities from enterprises that would be more useful to society.

It is a fairytale that the air was pristine before human intervention. The idea—which seems to be the basis of EPA policy—that we should constantly enact more and more restrictive regulations to try to “restore” the air to a fairytale purity, which never existed, is nonsense. There were times in the geologic past when vast dust storms created pollution forty times greater than anything human beings have ever done, and the human race survived. And, as I have pointed out in my book MAKERS AND TAKERS, the blue haze found over the Great Smoky mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains and many other mountains is caused by hydrocarbons (terpenes) emitted by pine trees. And oak trees emit isoprene, another hydrocarbon that has been found to produce smog over oak forests. If these natural emissions occurred over cites, they would look the same as smog from automobile exhausts. And if you have an average-sized suburban lawn, your lawn emits more hydrocarbons every year than your automobile. Or your lawn mower. So the idea that a machine to mow your lawn needs federal regulation to control emissions is absurd.

The idea that any amount of “pollution” is somehow a health hazard is more nonsense. Every chemical has a threshold below which is is not dangerous. And Mother Nature has long been subjecting the human race to far greater amounts of hazardous substances than anyone will ever get from a lawn mower. Likewise, the environment has survived far greater natural emissions of hydrocarbons and other alleged pollutants than lawn mowers produce. The contribution of lawn mowers is truly trivial. The average homeowner uses his lawn mower 14 hours per year. His mower burns four gallons of gas per year. But leave it to EPA to try to create a crisis and talk this up as a serious problem that requires government regulation.

Making the air too clean can even be detrimental to health. There can be no question that the quality of air in the U.S. has improved greatly over the last 25 years, but asthma rates have doubled. How can this be explained? EPA—with blind adherence to its cleaner-makes-everything-better-doctrine blames asthma on air pollution and claims that without even more stringent regulations to reduce air pollution, asthma rates will increase even more in the future. But if one looks at the record of recent decades, one would have to conclude the exact opposite, namely, that additional, more stringent regulations will only increase asthma rates further. And that is exactly what asthma and allergy experts have concluded. This was the prevailing view of a major conference of such experts in March 2002 in New York.

NBC News, covering the conference, reported: “Most people assume asthma results from air pollution or other dirt in the environment. But it may be caused by just the opposite. The latest research shows the cleaner the environment, the more cases of asthma. It has to do with our immune systems. New studies show if children escape multiple infections as infants, their immune systems then overreact to dust or other things that cause allergies....Children in poor countries are often sick, but they seldom get asthma. In communist East Germany, asthma rates were low, but since the wall came down and the country has gotten cleaner and healthier, asthma rates have shot up....Another study shows kids with dogs in the house get less asthma; and other research shows kids who grow up on farms are less prone to the condition.”

Smoking is undoubtedly dangerous. But despite the claims about secondhand tobacco smoke also being dangerous, there is abundant evidence that it has a beneficial (protective) effect, particularly for children. A World Health Organization study, for example, found that when both parents smoked, their children were 22 percent less likely to get cancer than when neither parent smoked. And a large study in Sweden found that children of parents who smoked 15 or more cigarettes per day had sharply lower odds of rhino-conjuctivitis, asthma, and even food allergies.


Ben said...

"Every chemical has a threshold below which is is not dangerous."

While I tend to agree, the Surgeon General (a wise man with an impressive uniform) says otherwise: There is no safe level. But maybe he only refers to the substances contained in tobacco smoke and the same substances, from other sources, may behave "normally".

Edmund Contoski said...

Thanks for writing. I am sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. This was in part due to the fact my reply became very lengthy. You can read it in my July 16 posting. I put it there instead of here next to your comment because more people will see it there.