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Internal EPA documents obtained by NPR show the potential human cost of new air pollution standards. The documents show that thousands of deaths could be prevented each year if the agency set a stricter standard for soot in the air.

NPR's Elizabeth Shogren has the story.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: Last month when EPA administrator Stephen Johnson set a new standard for how much soot is safe to breathe, he rejected EPA's scientific advisers' recommendation to make it tougher. A draft EPA analysis shows that if he had taken their advice, it would have saved about twice as many lives each year. John Walk from the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council says the documents show how deadly Johnson's decision will be for Americans.

Mr. JOHN WALK (Natural Resources Defense Council): What these explosive charts reveal is that by refusing to strengthen our air quality protections, EPA's political boss sacrificed the lives of 5,000-10,000 Americans each year who will now die from air pollution related strokes, heart attacks and lung disease.

SHOGREN: Walk provided the documents to NPR. A Bush administration official confirmed their authenticity. The documents are charts from EPA's draft analysis of the new standard. The charts show estimates of how many lives would be saved by the new soot standard and how many more lives would have been saved by a stricter standard recommended by the science advisers.

Looking at the charts, you see estimates from 12 scientists who had been handpicked by the EPA. They all agreed that more lives would be saved each year if the EPA had chosen a stricter standard. Most of them put that number at more than 4,000.

New York University Medical School Professor Morton Lippmann was one of the 12 experts whose opinion was listed on the chart.

Dr. MORTON LIPPMANN (New York University Medical School): Oh, there's no question in my mind, nor in the bulk of my colleagues, there's going to be a public health toll of considerable extent due to this wrong headed decision.

SHOGREN: Lippman said that the decision has serious consequences because fine particles from power plants, vehicles and factories are so deadly.

Dr. LIPPMANN: I mean, you can mention a few other things that affect public health more, like cigarette smoking, but you have to get to an issue like that before you get something with more impact than the affect of fine particles on mortality.

SHOGREN: Lippmann was also a member of the scientific panel whose advice was originally rejected when EPA announced the new standard. These scientists wrote a letter to EPA administrator Stephen Johnson. According to the letter, the standard, quote, “does not provide an adequate margin of safety requisite to protect the public health.”

Rogene Henderson, a senior scientist at Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque, chairs the panel.

Dr. ROGENE HENDERSON (Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute): As far as making a difference in what happens, I don't think it will. But at least it will document why from a scientific basis we object.

SHOGREN: Usually the EPA would release an analysis of the cost and benefits of a new standard at the time when it announced them. That still has not happened here. Morton Lippmann from NYU says that the EPA seemed to go out of its way to ignore the strong message scientists were sending and to make it hard for the public to see just how strong that message was.

Dr. LIPPMANN: There's very little doubt that this is not only inappropriate to ignore the evidence readily at hand, but it doesn't seem to be consistent with past practice either.

SHOGREN: EPA officials declined to speak for tape. In a statement, EPA press secretary Jennifer Wood did not comment on the internal documents. She said that the soot standard is the most protective in history and she said EPA officials are still working on an analysis of the risks and benefits of the new standard.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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