Facts Matter: Americans don't breathe world's 'cleanest air'

  • A severe thunderstorm makes its way toward Wichita, Kansas, last June 26. Travis Heying, a photographer with The Wichita Eagle newspaper, said no tornadoes touched down where he was shooting. But social media users appropriated the photo and falsely claimed it was taken May 28, 2019, by Bonner Springs, Kansas, police as tornadoes coursed through the region.

    A severe thunderstorm makes its way toward Wichita, Kansas, last June 26. Travis Heying, a photographer with The Wichita Eagle newspaper, said no tornadoes touched down where he was shooting. But social media users appropriated the photo and falsely claimed it was taken May 28, 2019, by Bonner Springs, Kansas, police as tornadoes coursed through the region. Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle via AP

 
 
Updated 6/8/2019 4:30 PM

President Donald Trump, while meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Wednesday, claimed the clean air and water in the U.S. is "setting records environmentally."

"We have the cleanest air in the world in the United States, and it's gotten better since I'm president," Trump said. "We have the cleanest water. It's crystal clean and I always say I want crystal clean water and air."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But the record for the fewest air polluted days was set in 2016 when Barack Obama was president, according to The Associated Press. In the following year, after Trump took office, the number of bad air days per metro area increased by 20%.

According to Environmental Protection Agency data for 35 major U.S. cities, there were 729 cases of unhealthy days for ozone and fine particle pollution in 2017, AP said. A state of Global Air 2019 report, issued by the Health Effects Institute, ranks the U.S. eighth on the list of cleanest air for particle pollution.

For smog pollution, ranked from cleanest to dirtiest, the U.S. comes in at 123 out of 195 countries listed, AP said.

The president was correct about the water. The U.S. is tied for first, along with nine other countries, on Yale University's global Environmental Performance Index ranking of the cleanest drinking water, according to AP. For environmental quality overall, the U.S. is the 27th best.

Photo from last year

There were no fatalities but 17 people were injured after a tornado ripped through an eastern section of Kansas late last month, according to The Associated Press.

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However, a photo of a menacing cloud hovering over a cornfield, purported to be an image of the recent tornado taken by police in Bonner Springs, a small town west of Kansas City, was actually taken nearly a year ago and about 200 miles away, AP said.

The photo, which has been shared on Facebook and Twitter as a picture of the recent storm, was taken on June 26, 2018, by photographer Travis Heying, working for The Wichita Eagle.

"It's just a cool, midsummer Kansas thunderstorm," Heying told AP.

He said it should have been easy to spot the fake. "Any self-respecting Midwesterner knows the corn is never that tall in May," Heying said.

Marijuana use still a concern

A Facebook meme circulating on social media shows anti-drug mascot Daren the Lion smoking a joint and includes the words "D.A.R.E. finally removed cannabis from its list of gateway drugs."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But the meme is fake and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, or D.A.R.E., doesn't list gateway drugs nor has the group removed marijuana from any list, <URL destination="https://www.politifact.com/facebook-fact-checks/statements/2019/may/30/viral-image/dre-still-thinks-marijuana-dangerous-drug-kids/">according to PolitiFact.com.

</URL>The origin of the claim appears to be a Reddit user who, in 2016, noticed marijuana was not listed along with tobacco and alcohol under the headline, "What is a gateway drug?" on a page issued by D.A.R.E., PolitiFact said.

The page is no longer active.

D.A.R.E. Chief Operating Officer Richard Mahan told PolitiFact, "I think the way it reads is it says there is the potential for leading to the use of other drugs, and yes, I know the word 'gateway' is in there." He said the current D.A.R.E. curriculum doesn't teach about gateway drugs because there is no single definition for that term.

Mahan pointed to an entry on the organization's website that states, "Without question, a student's use of marijuana is a high risk behavior with unhealthy consequences."

Right video, wrong song

A video posted on social media following Trump's June 3 visit to London shows the first couple joining Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace as the Band of the Grenadier Guards plays a rendition of the "Imperial March," Darth Vader's theme song from the "Star Wars" movies.

The video is authentic, but the audio was changed, according to Snopes.com.

Trump and First Lady Melania Trump stood on the steps of the palace with the queen as the band played the U.S. national anthem, Snopes said. Later, when they played military marches, Trump and Prince Charles inspected the Grenadier Guards.

The altered clip replaces the Navy anthem "Anchors Aweigh" with the "Imperial March," Snopes said.

• Bob Oswald is a veteran Chicago-area journalist and former news editor of the Elgin Courier-News. Contact him at boboswald33@gmail.com.

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