US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Mike Leavitt has awarded the University of Washington a $30 million grant to study the connection between air pollution and cardiovascular disease.
The grant is the largest ever awarded by the EPA for scientific research, and will contribute to a better understanding of the long-term health effects of breathing air contaminated by particulate matter and other pollutants.
“The President is pursuing a national strategy to dramatically improve America’s air quality,” said Administrator Leavitt. “An important component of this strategy is to improve our understanding of the health risks from long-term exposure to particulate pollution, particularly as it relates to heart disease, the leading cause of death in our country.”
In a recent evaluation of the EPA’s research on particulate matter (PM), the National Research Council highlighted the need for a prospective epidemiology study to extend the government’s knowledge of long-term PM exposure. This grant responds to this need by examining the association between ambient air pollution, including fine particles and other pollutants, and the progression of cardiovascular disease in 8,700 people ages 50 to 89.
The study will track people who are from varied ethnic groups who live in cities across the USA. The researchers will evaluate whether long-term exposure to fine particles is associated with specific changes in atherosclerosis (build-up of plaque in the arteries) and other factors associated with heart disease. The University of Washington will provide EPA with an annual scientific report of data and findings which will be used to inform EPA research and regulatory decisions.
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 the burning of wood. Other particles may be formed in the air when gases emitted from burning fuels react with sunlight and water vapour.
Premature death and other health problems are strongly related to sulphates in the air and ambient concentrations of fine particles less than 2.5 micrograms. Long-term exposure to ambient, airborne particulate matter is associated with increased mortality, largely due to cardiovascular causes and serious respiratory problems. In addition, chronic exposure to particulates can cause decreased development of lung function among school-age children.