EPA Should Redirect Some Research on Toxic Airborne Particles

WASHINGTON -- As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tightens standards for airborne particulates, it should redirect some research and maintain an integrated study program ensuring that the most serious public health risks posed by the particles are addressed, says a new report by a committee of the National Research Council. To that end, EPA should devote more funds to studying the types of particles most likely to be harmful to human health, the ways the particles cause damage, and the levels of exposure people actually receive.

"Recent studies have consistently shown that airborne particles are somehow associated with adverse health effects, especially for people with heart and lung ailments," said committee chair Jonathan Samet, professor and chair, department of epidemiology, Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore. "But as the new standards begin to take effect, further research must be done to determine precisely which particles pose the greatest health risks, and how. Gathering this information should be of the highest priority. The results will greatly increase the likelihood that money spent on regulating and controlling particulates will fully protect public health."

EPA recently set stricter standards for particulate matter -- a broad class of materials that originate from industrial manufacturing processes, forest fires, automobile exhaust, fossil fuel combustion, wind erosion, and a variety of other sources. The standards were changed after several epidemiological studies found associations between exposure to the particles and serious health consequences, including the exacerbation of asthma and other respiratory tract diseases -- which in some cases were leading to premature deaths. The new standards, set last July, for the first time target particulates smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter. When inhaled, these tiny particles are more l

Contact: Molly Galvin, Kristen Nye
The National Academies

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