WASHINGTON, DC, March 26, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) should boost funding for an array of research
into the health effects of particulate matter, a federal panel of
experts said on Wednesday. The pollutant - linked to respiratory and
heart ailments - consists of tiny airborne particles in dust, smoke
and soot created by the emissions of cars, trucks, power plants and
The new report from the National Research Council committee says
the government's continued support and enhancement of research into
particulate matter would "undoubtedly yield substantial benefits
for years to come."
The panel says it is critical that new research commence as the EPA
revises standards for particulate matter.
"Much has been learned in the last five years, and the evidence
gained is already being used by decisionmakers," said committee
chair Jonathan Samet, professor and chair, department of epidemiology,
Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. "We
need to continue to invest in developing an even greater understanding
to take full advantage of the work already done, and to complete the
foundation of evidence needed to protect public health."
The last revision of particulate matter standards was finalized in
1997 by the Clinton administration. Those standards took aim at fine
particulate matter - particles smaller than 2.5 microns.
New smog rules aim to reduce particulate matter in the air over cities
such as Denver, shown here. (Photo courtesy U.S. Environmental Protection
The standards were created in response to studies that showed inhalation
of particulate matter could worsen lung ailments, even causing premature
death in some instances.
But EPA estimates that it would cost industry some $30 billion to
comply with the standards prompted a legal challenge by groups representing
the trucking, automotive and power plant industries.
The Supreme Court upheld the standards in 2001, and the EPA now says
its revised standards should be ready within three years.
Environmentalists and public health groups say the standards are
still too lax.
The committee that wrote the report said that even as EPA implements
strategies to control particulate matter in the near term, it should
- in concert with other agencies - continue research in order to reduce
uncertainties further and inform long-term decisions.
Current regulations treat all particulate matter the same - something
the panel said needs to change.
New studies confirm that outdoor measures of particulate matter are
a good indicator for use in public health studies and that more particulate
matter is deposited in the lungs of people with asthma or chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease.
Other findings show that a number of groups - such as seniors, and
people with diabetes or heart disease - may be particularly susceptible
to the particles.
"The emphasis now should shift from studying whether particulate
matter causes adverse health effects to studying the dose at which
those effects are likely to occur," Samet said. "We also
need to know which aspects of particulate matter are most hazardous,
and to learn how people are exposed to hazardous particles and how
these particles trigger injury."
The panel recommends more studies of the effects of chronic exposure
on different population groups as well as research to better characterize
and track particles from various emissions sources.
Power plants are a key source of particulate matter.
These improvements could lead to emission control strategies that
target the particulate matter that presents the greatest threat to
public health, according to the panel.
The report is the fourth and final one in a series requested by Congress
to provide independent guidance to EPA's long term particulate matter
The committee re-emphasized an earlier recommendation to include
scientists from many disciplines in the overall research effort.
The report also called on the EPA to research the health effects
of multiple air pollutants - the panelists noted that real world exposures
involve complex mixtures of hundreds of air contaminants.
The committee praised the EPA's current research agenda for particulate
matter - the federal agency has spent some $60 million annually since
1997. The Bush administration says it has requested $64 million for
Along the lines of the report's recommendations, EPA officials say
they are recommitting the agency to a "multi-disciplinary research
and monitoring program that achieves a robust understanding of the
science of particulate matter."
"Achieving a relatively full understanding of the health effects
of particulate matter, as well as the means of controlling it, will
be a steep and costly climb, but one in which EPA must and will engage,"
said Dr. Paul Gilman, EPA Science Advisor. "EPA will adapt its
management practices and priorities to achieve a better understanding
of the consequences of particulate matter for people and the environment."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All