As I sat in a classroom last semester, there was a claim made that did not sit well with me. The claim was that the inversion has particles that, over generations, can alter a person’s DNA. My mind was blown, and, as a future scientist, I wondered why I had never heard of this study before. I set out to find exactly what this means for all of us living in Utah faced with the inversion every winter.
For scientists, the major set of skills available for use are our observations through scientific method. Researching is made easy through the Internet. Anyone can find any information he or she would like on an inversion through websites like EPA.gov and Airquality.utah.gov. My research on those websites showed no results on PM2.5 (these are the mutagenic particles) and relation to DNA mutations.
Where to look next? Google Scholar? That yielded obscure results with 2-3 participants per study on the effects of car exhaust on urine contents. These articles did not support the claim.
I decided to contact representatives for the Department of Air Quality, who referenced me to the State Department of Toxicology.
I contacted Steve Packham, a toxicologist, to talk with him about mutagenic air quality problems. Packham had heard of no studies being carried on to make such drastic claims. The toxicology, molecular pathology and genetic studies needed for a mutagenic particle have not been carried out. Which brings me to my next question: Where has the need for scientific method and evidence gone? It seems that the media, government and even statisticians can make a drastic claims with no regard for scientific method that should accompany such a claim.
We have all heard that the inversion can be harmful to a person’s health with pre-existing conditions such as asthma. There was a study performed by the state of Utah that tested the number of emergency room visits on an inversion day versus the number of admissions on a non-inversion day. Is this conclusive evidence to make such a widespread claim that inversion is bad on health? I think not. I think that a person with asthma is going to look at that health statement and think it can’t be that bad. Assuming is not part of science. Therefore, the claim about asthma and inversion is not backed up by substantial evidence.
The Environmental Protection Agency works hard to mandate air-quality conditions within each state. The Utah Department of Air Quality works harder to regulate businesses and automobiles to meet those standards. Why? Why is there a need for such strict regulation? The EPA has brilliant scientists who work long, hard hours. Where are the published studies to help back up the claims made by politicians within their agency? If the governmental agencies could start recognizing their scientists as beacons of change, they would certainly back up claims with more conclusive scientific studies.
If I am being told something is bad for me, I want to know why. I want evidence. Good, strong scientific evidence. I want to read someone’s hypothesis (what they think will be the resolution and outcome), with strong methods and data to back up an even stronger conclusion.
I know that I do not like walking outside to see a cloud of pollution lingering over this beautiful campus, but without serious evidence and a reason for change, there will be no change. This inversion will continue not only due to nature, but because the claims lack evidence to scare people into a change. My favorite phrase is that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I think it takes a community to make a change. This community is built on all types of people coming together toward a common goal. The scientific community must work together, all disciplines from statisticians to chemists, to bring about conclusive evidence for a better environment.