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Renewed EPA Funding for Harvard School of Public Health Research Focuses on Major Component of Air Pollution

Release Date: 12/15/2005
Contact Information: EPA Public Affairs - David Deegan, 617-918-1017 HSPH - Christina Roache, 617- 432-6052

(Boston) - Continued EPA funding is supporting research at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) to study how particulate matter - a major component of air pollution in many areas of the country - affects human health and to better understand the sources most responsible for these effects.

The EPA research funding is being provided through the Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants program.

"With sound scientific data, we can make well-informed decisions that promote healthy people and communities," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England office. "EPA's commitment to research through top-notch institutions like the Harvard School of Public Health underscores our commitment to promoting health and a clean environment."

In 1999, the HSPH was one of five particulate matter centers established at different universities through EPA’s STAR grants program. The original HSPH work studied ambient particle health effects. EPA is now continuing to fund three of those centers (including the one at HSPH) and will establish two new research centers to address priority research needs related to airborne particulate matter, including susceptibility, mechanisms of health effects, exposure-response relationships, and source linkages.

The center at HSPH will now focus on novel exposure scenarios to define the health effects of particle sources (see: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/epacenter/). The original HSPH particulate matter center worked on differentiating the health effects of particles from outdoor and indoor sources; developing methods to identify populations sensitive to the effects of air pollution; and identifying biological mechanisms that may lead to fatal outcomes.

“The new funding will now allow us to focus on linking health effects to specific components of particles and subsequently to specific pollution sources,” said HSPH Professor Petros Koutrakis, who directs the HSPH center. “This next step is important because if we know which sources affect human health, we can then develop thoughtful and effective pollution control strategies.”

Each research center funded under this part of the STAR grant program will receive $8 million over five years. In addition to HSPH, the following institutions are performing research on fine particles: Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, University of Rochester, University of California at Davis, and University of California at Los Angeles.

Particulate matter is a mixture that includes acids, metals, petroleum byproducts, diesel soot, and other potentially harmful substances. The tiny size of these particles - whose diameters can be hundreds of times less than the thickness of a human hair - allows them to easily deposit deep in the lungs. Particulates come from a variety of sources, including coal-burning power plants, factories, construction sites, cars, trucks, buses, tilled fields, unpaved roads, stone crushing, and wood burning. Other particles may be formed in the air when gases emitted from burning fuels react with sunlight and water vapor. Several studies have suggested a link between particulate matter and premature death from cardiopulmonary causes. Exposure to particulate matter has also been associated with hospitalization for respiratory or cardiovascular diseases and exacerbation of respiratory diseases, such as asthma.

EPA is currently working with states across the country to fully implement a suite of the most health-protective air quality standards ever, including efforts to reduce people's exposure to fine particles. More information on these programs in New England is available at: http://www.epa.gov/ne/airquality/partic.html .

More information on EPA STAR grants is available at: http://es.epa.gov/ncer/about/quickguide.html .

Harvard School of Public Health is dedicated to advancing the public's health through learning, discovery, and communication. More than 300 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 900-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children's health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights.

Related Information:
Particulate Matter (PM) in New England
EPA STAR Grants
Air Quality (Particulate Matter)