UW Today

March 9, 2011

UW named base for EPA-funded Clean Air Research Center

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

The UW Clean Air Research Center will study the health effects of pollution near roadways.

The UW Clean Air Research Center will study the health effects of pollution near roadways.

The centers will study the health impact of the complex, varying  mixtures of particles, vapors and gas that pollute the air.

The UW Center for Clean Air Research will bring together researchers from four main institutions: Washington State University, Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, University of New Mexico and the UW.

The investigators will study the health effects of exposure to pollution near roadways. They are particularly interest in the impact of air pollution on the heart and blood vessels.

Dr. Sverre Vedal, a pulmonary disease physician and professor of environmental and occupational health at the UW will direct the center. He noted that work of the center will be in line with a current move  from a single-pollutant to a multi-pollutant perspective in studying the  health effects of exposure.

For example, the EPA grant description notes that the components of air pollution near roadways can vary by vehicle emission source, road surface, aging of road materials, atmospheric processing, and photochemical reactions.

All of the four newly funded EPA Clean Air Research Centers will look at the impact of air pollution mixtures on people’s health, because people are generally exposed to more than one pollutant at a time, EPA officials said in their funding announcement.

“These centers are critical to understanding how to improve air quality and protect Americans’ health from complex mixtures of air pollutants,” said Paul Anastas, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “The centers will focus on important scientific questions remaining in air research.”

The multi-disciplinary effort at the UW Center for Clean Air Research will concentrate on six tasks:

  • characterize the real-world  air pollutant concentrations, particle size, and chemical composition near roadways
  • simulate realistic near-roadway exposure in laboratory studies
  • identify, through lab testing and modeling, the exposure on the heart and immune system and how damage occurs
  • learn through clinical studies the effects of air pollution exposure on the heart and immune system of people
  • identify the effects of long-term exposure to air pollution from traffic in a multi-ethnic population
  • develop a statistical and methodological framework for study health effects of multi- pollutant mixtures.

The center researchers noted that identifying the most hazardous components for exposures near roadways will allow for more focused, coordinated and effective policies to reduce damage to health from air pollution.

The UW has a more than 60 year history in studying air pollution and its effects on the environment and on human and animal health.

Other newly funded Clean Air Research Centers will be located at Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta; Harvard University in Boston; and Michigan State University in East Lansing.

These centers will explore the health impacts of air pollution on children and the elderly to see which health effects occur at different stages of life.  They will also study those most susceptible to air pollution, including people with chronic medical conditions. Along with UW’s work on cardiovascular problems, other centers will look at air pollution’s role in pulmonary, inflammatory, and neurological problems.