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A Totally Different USC Scandal

UCLA epidemiologist calls out USC med school professors on big money research used to establish EPA regulations

By Katy Grimes, April 16, 2019 6:46 am

University of Southern California has been grabbing headlines lately over the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scam, billed as the biggest ever college entrance scandal, including several high-profile Hollywood parents. Additionally, the former USC medical school dean was linked to drugs and prostitutes, and was forced to resign in 2018. His successor was ousted less than a year after being appointed following revelations of a sexual harassment settlement from 15 years earlier,” Fox News reported, and USC gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall, 71, was accused of sexual abuse by more than 50 women over the course of more than two decades, with the school taking no action until 2016, despite the women having complained about the physician’s behavior for years. This led USC President C.L. Max Nikias, to resign in 2018.

Now California Globe can report that a number of USC professors in the Department of Preventive Medicine have received at least $268 million in air pollution research funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, according to Dr. James Enstrom, who believes that this massive amount of research funding has influenced their research findings and their continuing support for the South Coast Air Quality Management District regulations.

Enstrom says his belief is reinforced by USC Preventive Medicine Professors Duncan C. Thomas and Kiros T. Berhane who have failed to respond to Enstrom’s January 2019 and June 2018 emails, which summarize the latest epidemiologic evidence that PM2.5 does not cause premature deaths and that there is no justification for new SCAQMD regulations.

PM2.5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, which is about 3 percent the diameter of a human hair and can only be detected with an electron microscope.

So Cal to be hit with air tax

Dr. Enstrom says this matters because all Southern California taxpayers may be forced to comply with new unjustified South Coast AQMD regulations that will be paid for with a one-half-cent sales tax being promoted by SCAQMD, under Senate Bill 732 by Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica).

“If a new regressive sales tax is approved, it will hurt every Southern California taxpayer, particularly the struggling blue collar workers who surround the two USC campuses,” said Enstrom. “These issues are directly relevant to academic freedom and scientific integrity at both USC and UCLA and to the Southern California economy.” According to Enstrom, it appears the South Coast AQMD has real power over USC and the research grants the school receives. Specifically, Dr. Jo Kay Ghosh, the South Coast AQMD Health Effects Officer, won’t look at Enstrom’s evidence either because it would put an end to the scheme they are running — including the bill to tax the air in Southern California.

SB 732 would authorize the south coast air district board “to impose a transactions and use tax within the boundaries of the south coast district, with the moneys generated from the transactions and use tax to be used to supplement existing revenues being used for south coast district purposes.” Passage of the bill would allow SCAQMD to use the money however it sees fit. The first legislative committee hearing for SB 732 will be April 24.

The Orange County Register editorial board referred to SB 732 as “a proposed law to invent a new tax district so yet another government agency can put tax hikes on the ballot.”

USC professors played role in unjustified regulations

“The multibillion-dollar PM2.5 regulations imposed upon Californians by EPA, CARB, SCAQMD, and SJVAPCD are scientifically and economically unjustified,” Enstrom said. “USC professors have played a major role in the research and interpretation of evidence that has led to these unjustified regulations.” Enstrom added, “the unwillingness by the doctors to address unethical PM2.5 science and regulations is consistent with the recent lack of ethics at the USC School of Medicine.”

All of this casts doubt upon the reliability of air pollution epidemiology which has been used to establish EPA regulations, as well as air quality regulations in California by the California Air Resources board and SCAQMD. CARB in particular, has been behind some of the most devastating and dubious diesel regulations, which led to the closure of many trucking businesses, and related trucking industries.

“The regulations under which EPA and CARB are prosecuting truckers are based on dubious science. But when the cause is green virtue, such details don’t matter,” reported an Oct. 18, 2015 Wall Street Journal editorial.

Overdriveonline.com reported: “While claims from scientists around the world have been made about fine diesel particulates’ health effects for years, CARB’s development of the Truck and Bus Rule, which requires all electronically-calibrated diesel engine technology prior to the 2007 emissions-spec model year to be retrofitted with diesel particulate filters or retired, in the view of the WSJ editorial board simply didn’t justify itself with science in the development:

Notably, the epidemiological study that CARB used to justify its truck rule in 2008 had to be corrected after it was revealed that the report’s lead staff scientist had purchased his statistics doctorate for $1,000 from a diploma mill. CARB later revised its estimates of premature deaths prevented by the rule down to 3,500 from 9,400. … “

CARB based its diesel regulations on what turned out to be a mail order Ph.D. by CARB employee Hien T. Tran, who was found to have lied about having a Ph.D. in statistics from University of California, Davis. But even with full knowledge of Tran’s phony credentials, in December 2008, CARB still allowed Tran to write the health report that determined that CARB would forge ahead with drastic diesel regulations in the state.

Making matters even worse, UCLA fired Dr. Enstrom because he exposed Tran, and because his work on air pollution didn’t mesh with approved thinking, despite his prior 34 years as a researcher at UCLA. Enstrom sued the university and won his job back. And he’s determined to continue to expose that “there is NO robust relationship between PM2.5 and total mortality,” in the air pollution epidemiology that has been used to establish EPA regulations, and California’s toughest-in-the-nation air quality rules.

WHO map of ambient PM2.5

Enstrom also notes that the World Health Organization world map of ambient PM2.5 clearly shows that PM2.5 regulations are required in China, India, and Africa, not in the San Joaquin Valley.

As Enstrom explained back in 2012, “There is now overwhelming epidemiologic evidence that particulate matter (PM), both fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and coarse particulate matter (PM10), is not related to total mortality in California.” Enstrom examined all the long-term PM epidemiologic cohort studies in California, and the ways the findings from these studies have be used and/or ignored. He shared the limitations of these studies: lack of access to key databases; the ecological fallacy; failure to consider other pollutants; failure to satisfy causality criteria; and failure to consider other competing health risks. And he shared the ethical issues underlying much of PM2.5 epidemiology, clearly concluding that PM2.5 is not killing Californians and that there is not a scientific or public health basis for the many of the existing and proposed regulations designed to reduce PM levels in California.

NEXT: California Globe has contacted Professors Duncan C. Thomas, Kiros T. Berhane, and Dr. Jo Kay Ghosh for their responses to Dr. Enstrom’s evidence and email letters, and will report their answers.

Katy Grimes

Katy Grimes, the Editor of the California Globe, is a long-time Investigative Journalist covering the California State Capitol, and the co-author of California's War Against Donald Trump: Who Wins? Who Loses?
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11 thoughts on “A Totally Different USC Scandal

  1. A similar scandal is the mercury regulations (Obama’s MACT rules that were on track to eliminate the coal industry until Trump rescinded them) that are based on assumptions that run180-degrees opposite to well established toxicology findings.

    Environmental regulations of all sorts have long employed a “linear extrapolation to zero” toxicological assumption, meaning that if X amount of mercury or radiation or whatever has been found to have a Y% chance of killing a person then researchers can assume that an X/1000 dose of mercury will have a (Y/1000)% chance of killing a person. In other words: toxicity remains constant in per-quantity terms, no matter how small the dose.

    This assumption is ideal for environmentalists who see economic growth as the enemy of the environment. They want any excuse to shut down economic activity and being able to assume that small doses have the same toxicity by volume as large doses allows them regulate down to infinitesimal doses and essentially shut down whatever they want (an assumption that is very likely at play in the state’s PM2.5 particulate analysis).

    But this assumption runs opposite to what is now well established as a near-universal toxicological principle, the phenomenon of what is called “hormesis”: that in small enough doses nearly every toxin has POSITIVE (salutary, beneficial) effects.

    It seems that all of a living body’s immune/reparative/resilience systems like a little exercise. You reach a point where you start getting too much exercise, then you start to enter toxicity, but low doses of mercury, radiation, viruses, bacteria, pretty much every nasty thing you can think of except Ebola (considered to be infective down to the level of a single particle), has a beneficial range.

    So the question for environmental regulations is where is the line between the high/toxic dose of radiation, mercury, or whatever, and the low/beneficial dose? With mercury the amount of mercury in the air AFTER coal-electric generation plants have spewed their small amount of mercury into the air are still well into the beneficial range.

    In other words, Obama was shutting down coal plants to reduce mercury emissions that had a clearly POSITIVE health benefits for pretty much everybody.

    This battle over “linear extrapolation to zero” goes back to the 1950s where the great chemist and socialist lunatic Linus Pauling, who won a Nobel prize for his opposition to nuclear proliferation, used the phony science of linear extrapolation to attack everything nuclear, including nuclear power, and this became the model for environmental regulation for the next 50+ years now.

      1. The thieves are leftist radical environmentalists, producing the phony science that the leftist-Democrat dominated state government needs to justify its anti-capitalist eco-religious policies. Yeah, but you keep thinking this has something to do with Trump. Leftists lie about absolutely everything.

      2. Corrupt authoritarian, totalitarian, dictatorial Democrat socialist thugs in California’s legislature are the one’s stealing from taxpayers in California (aka Commiefornia).

    1. I listened to Pauling speak in 1973 at Mizzou. He seemed positively off his rocker ranting about vitamins.

  2. Leftists, regardless of race, are the bigoted, thuggish, lying, self-aggrandizing racist thieves of our lives and liberties.

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