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 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 country. The researchers will evaluate whether long-term exposure to fine particles is associated with specific changes in atherosclerosis (buildup 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 that 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 vapor.
Premature death and other health problems are strongly related to sulfates 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.
Reducing emissions of PM is a crucial component of the Bush administration's strategy for cleaner air and healthier Americans. The administration's new Clean Air Rules include a suite of actions that will dramatically improve air quality, people's health and quality of life. This strategy includes EPA's recent rule to reduce pollution from nonroad diesel engines, new more-protective ozone and fine particle standards and proposed Clean Air Interstate Rule to reduce pollution from power plants in the eastern United States. Together these rules will make the next 15 years one of the most productive periods of air quality improvement in America's history.
The grant is funded through the EPA's Science to Achieve Results (STAR) competitive grants program. For more information about this grant, visit www.epa.gov/pmresearch/pm_grant.