Clean Air Research Centers

Air Quality Awareness: A New Generation of Research

By Dan Costa, Sc.D.

Graphic of clouds and buildings in a silhouette cityscape. It’s Air Quality Awareness Week! This week, EPA is showing how we care about the air by announcing grants to three institutions to create air research centers. We now understand more than ever about the threats of air pollution to environmental and human health, but there is still more to learn. EPA has a history of supporting research and development that complements the work of our own staff scientists to bolster scientific knowledge about the effects of air pollution. EPA uses this knowledge to address many pressing questions and understand connections between our changing environment and human health.

Since 1999, EPA has funded three rounds of research centers through a competitive grant process. The scientific experts at these centers have contributed to a more complete understanding of the persistent air quality challenges that continue to face our nation. The first round of EPA funded air research centers focused on particulate matter and examined the link between particulate matter and cardiovascular disease. In 2005, the next round of centers focused on whether differing health effects could be linked to specific sources of air pollution. By 2010, it was clear that to get an accurate understanding of real life exposures, we needed to examine the health effects of exposure to multiple pollutants at once instead of just one or two at a time. The third round of centers took on this complex challenge. The next step is to delve into questions regarding how the health effects of air pollution may vary in different cities and regions across our country – each with its own unique characteristics and set of pollution sources.

This leads us to today and our exciting announcement–EPA is awarding $30 million through its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program to fund the establishment of Air, Climate, and Energy (ACE) Research Centers at Yale University, Harvard University and Carnegie Mellon University. These Centers will consider changing energy production methods and local climate, while investigating the effects of global climate change, technology, and societal choices on local air quality and health.

I am eagerly anticipating the many new tools and ideas that will be produced by this next generation of EPA funded air research centers.

About the Author: Dan Costa is the national program director for EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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What’s in the Air?

By Sarah Blau

Today when I step outside after a long day of work, I will draw in a nice deep breath of fresh air….hmmm, I wonder what I am actually inhaling?

Oh, there’s definitely some oxygen in there, and probably some nitrogen and carbon dioxide too – I hear these things are common in air. But what with the cars zooming out of the parking lot, the groundskeepers spraying the shrubs, and the commuter bus making its daily rounds, I’m guessing there are chemicals going into my body that I’ve never even heard of.

The point is, pollution doesn’t affect people one chemical at a time. There is a whole plethora of chemicals floating around out there (most common air pollutants) and we want to know what they are going to do in our bodies!

This is why in early March I was excited to attend the Society of Toxicology’s Annual Meeting where EPA announced the creation of four new Clean Air Research Centers (CLARCs). One of the main goals of the centers is to research air pollution mixtures and how those mixtures affect our bodies.

Each of the four university-based CLARCs will receive $8 million over a 5-year grant period. The research centers are located at: Harvard University, Michigan State University, University of Washington, and a combined effort from Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Each CLARC will have its own research focus, but the overarching theme of their research projects will be to better understand the health risks associated with air pollution and mixtures. More specific projects include studying the connections between air pollution and obesity, investigating how roadway pollution affects heart and lung health, researching how pollution mixtures and their associated health affects vary by location, and looking at how air pollution affects the human body during different life stages.

The four CLARCs will conduct cutting-edge research to answer a myriad of questions we have about air pollution. Questions such as: Are children born prematurely sensitive to air pollution, Can your morning commute make you sick, Does air pollution affect your child’s learning, or Does obesity make you susceptible to health effects of air pollution?

After hearing the EPA announcement about these centers and all the research projects they intend to conduct, I am looking forward to the day when I will actually know what I am breathing in – and what it is doing to my body – when I step outside after a long day of work and take a nice deep breath of fresh air.

About the author: Writer Sarah Blau is a student services contractor working with EPA’s science communication team.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.