Looking at the Cost of Air Pollution on Clean Air Day

Today is September 7, recognized as Clean Air Day.

Air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year, largely as a result of increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and respiratory infections.[1] That is the population of Bulgaria,[2] Tennessee,[3] or Los Angeles and Chicago.[4]

In addition to the high mortality costs, air pollution imposes a substantial burden in terms of human health and resources. Air pollution has been found to decrease happiness and life satisfaction and increase annoyance, anxiety, mental disorders, self-harm and suicide.

Air pollution “impairs cognitive functioning and decision-making, triggers avoidance behavior, exacerbates criminal activities, and hurts work productivity and stock markets.”[5] According to Stanford Earth Matters magazine, air pollution costs the U.S. roughly 5 percent of its yearly gross domestic product—approximately $790 billion in 2014.[6]

Despite the wide-ranging, consistent, and substantial damages from air pollution, based on our research,[7] there have been zero successful federal False Claims Act cases related to violations of the Clean Air Act, the United States’ primary federal air quality law, intended to reduce and control air pollution nationwide.[8]

This is due, at least in part, to some court decisions which have limited the utility of the False Claims Act in addressing polluters who falsely certify compliance with environmental laws.[9] Imagine the impact if whistleblowers could combat the annual $790 billion cost caused by air polluters.

Written by Molly Knobler & Talia Mermin of Phillips & Cohen, LLP

[1] https://www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution#tab=tab_1

[2] https://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/population-by-country.htm

[3] https://worldpopulationreview.com/states

[4] https://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities

[5] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352250X19300673

[6] https://earth.stanford.edu/news/how-much-does-air-pollution-cost-us#gs.74yxva

[7] Searched all dockets on Westlaw based on “Key Nature of Suit” (equal to “False Claims Act” or “Qui Tam”) and the search term “Clean Air Act.” Also searched violationtracker.org for FCA violations regarding “Clean Air” since 2000. Note that there was one successful case under the Massachusetts False Claims Act in which four companies paid $340,000 to settle allegations of illegal asbestos work during the renovation of a public housing facility for the elderly and disabled in violation of Massachusetts’ clean air laws and regulations. https://wayback.archive-it.org/1101/20181226161226/https://www.mass.gov/news/four-companies-settle-allegations-of-illegal-asbestos-work-at-salem-public-housing-facility

[8] https://www.epa.gov/clean-air-act-overview/plain-english-guide-clean-air-act

[9]See, e.g., U.S. ex rel. Simoneaux v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 843 F.3d 1033, 1039 (5th Cir. 2016) (holding that “unassessed regulatory penalties are not obligations under the FCA.”).