UPDATED: Advisory Panel, JeffCo Air Pollution Expert Take on Controversial Role at EPA

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has appointed a Jefferson County air pollution expert to the seven-member panel charged with giving the agency administrator independent technical advice for setting the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler named Corey M. Masuca, principal air pollution control engineer for the Jefferson County Department of Health, to the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee on Oct. 10. The CASAC will lead a review of recent science to advise whether any changes are necessary to the standards for ground-level ozone or particulate matter to provide public health with an adequate margin of safety.

That panel may take on added importance with the EPA’s move last week to dismiss two larger outside advisory panels of scientists who were to evaluate emissions for harmful public health effects. Environmentalists assailed the decision to concentrate assessments in the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. CASAC previously worked with the outside panels to assess health risks and advise on setting national standards for air pollutants.

The process now has fewer academics and has evaluators who come from state or local governments in generally pro-Trump states. Gretchen Goldman of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy told the Washington Post on Saturday, “By removing science and scientists, they are making it easier for the administration to set a weaker standard.”

Environmental advocates, according to the Post, see the decision as the Trump administration curtailing the use of science that contradicts the president’s pro-industry agenda “because the CASAC’s small size and lack of broad expertise would make it nearly impossible to fully vet the vast body of pollution science related to public health.”

Masuca, who holds a doctorate in environmental health science from UAB, said his appointment “is an excellent opportunity to not only represent the interests of the citizens of Jefferson County but the entire country by ensuring air quality standards are sufficient and protective of public health.”

His duties will include attending EPA meetings and teleconferences and creating, reviewing and commenting on technical documents, he said in an email statement furnished by the health department.

Clean air advocate organization Gasp, headquartered in Birmingham, applauded the choice of Masuca. Executive Director Michael Hansen said he would make “a great addition” to the CASAC.

“Corey’s background in engineering and law make him well-positioned to advise the EPA on science-based policy making. I also think (he) could bring back some information and best practices to (help) the health department make better decisions about public health and improving air quality,” Hansen said.

Ozone and particulate matter, both fine and coarse, are among the six ambient air pollutants for which the federal Clean Air Act requires specific standards to be set. Others are carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide.

The health department publishes a daily forecast of ozone and particulate matter on its website and issues alerts when air pollution levels exceed the standards.

The panel also will evaluate the role of background pollution, research needs and potential adverse effects from strategies to meet the standards for ozone and particulate substances. Changes to the standards would be final by late 2020, according to the EPA.

Masuca graduated from Auburn University in biochemical engineering and holds a law degree from Miles College. He is a professional engineer and has worked for the Jefferson County Health Department since 1998. Before that, he worked for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the Connecticut Bureau of Air Management, among others.

He is an adjunct professor at the University of West Alabama and the University of Phoenix’ Birmingham campus and has provided consulting services for three observational studies performed at UAB that involved the relationship between ambient air pollution and emergency room visits for cardiovascular disease, adult respiratory disease and childhood respiratory disease.

The scientific advisory committee is headed by Anthony “Tony” Cox of Cox Associates, a member of the EPA Scientific Advisory Board. In addition to Masuca, members are James Boylan, Georgia Department of Natural Resources; Mark Frampton, University of Rochester Medical Center; Sabine Lange, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; Timothy Lewis, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Steven Packham, Utah Department of Environmental Quality.