Big oil shill tells Fox viewers there is ‘no health risk’ from inhaling toxic smoke

"He has been trying to recast air pollution—particularly PM2.5—as innocuous for decades, since he was working for Big Tobacco."

SOURCECommon Dreams
Image Credit: Andrea Austria/Media Matters

As smoke from massive wildfires in Quebec blanketed much of the eastern U.S., forcing millions to stay indoors as state governments issued code-red air quality alerts, a longtime shill for the fossil fuel and tobacco industries falsely told Fox News viewers late Wednesday that there is actually “no health risk” associated with inhaling such polluted air.

“Look, the air is ugly, it’s unpleasant to breathe, and for a lot of people, they get anxiety over it. But the reality is there’s no health risk,” Steve Milloy, a senior policy fellow at the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, told Fox‘s Laura Ingraham. “We have this kind of air in India and China all the time—no public health emergency.”

Milloy, who has long worked to spread disinformation about climate science and the health risks of secondhand smoke, neglected to mention research showing that air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths per year in China, India, and worldwide.

Watch Milloy’s remarks:

A 2021 study by researchers at Harvard University, the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester, and University College London directly attributed more than 8 million deaths in 2018 to fine particulate pollution (PM2.5).

But Milloy insisted Wednesday that “this doesn’t kill anybody, this doesn’t make anybody cough, this is not a health event.”

“Particulate matter is very fine soot. It’s just carbon particles—they’re innocuous,” Milloy said, pointing to unspecified EPA research. “There’s nothing in them. They have no effect.”

The EPA website says, to the contrary, that “particulate matter contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems.”

“Some particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter can get deep into your lungs and some may even get into your bloodstream,” the EPA notes. “Of these, particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, also known as fine particles or PM2.5, pose the greatest risk to health.”

Investigative journalist Amy Westervelt observed in response to Milloy’s Fox appearance that he “has been trying to recast air pollution—particularly PM2.5—as innocuous for decades, since he was working for Big Tobacco.”

“Why is particulate matter such a big deal for his coal and fossil fuel clients? Because regulating it means regulating fossil fuel combustion,” Westervelt added.

Meteorologist Eric Holthaus added that “air pollution is literally the 4th highest cause of death globally.”

“Every year 9 million people die due to air pollution made worse by fossil fuels,” Holthaus tweeted. “The fossil fuel industry knows this AND they lie about it so they can keep making money off of our suffering.”

In a deep dive on Milloy’s history last year, Westervelt noted that “one of his earliest jobs was running The Advancement of Sound Science Center (TASSC), which was created by Philip Morris and their PR firm APCO in the 1990s to deal with the mounting evidence that linked secondhand smoke and, more broadly, indoor air pollution, to cancer.”

“The secondhand smoke issue brought the tobacco industry together with lots of other industries that were worried about air pollution regulation—automotive, manufacturing, and, of course, fossil fuels,” Westervelt wrote. “Which is how Milloy, working for the tobacco industry, became one of the first leaders of the climate countermovement.”

Tens of millions of people on the East Coast of the U.S. are currently under air quality alerts, with some major cities classifying the conditions as “hazardous.”

“Current NYC smoke levels pose a health risk for anyone outside,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote on Twitter Thursday morning.


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