Asthma and Air Pollutant Health Effects

By Jan Dye

Lung anatomyAs health effects researchers within EPA’s Office of Research and Development, my colleagues and I use a range of approaches to assess the respiratory toxicity of air pollutants.  Because May is Asthma Awareness Month, this week’s It All Starts with Science blogs will focus on research relating to those populations who may be most susceptible (or vulnerable) to air pollution, including asthmatics.

To investigate links between air pollution exposure and specific adverse health effects, my colleagues and I study what is in the air (e.g., the level, type, and combination of air pollutants present) and who is breathing the air.  This is important because not everyone responds to air pollution in the same manner or to the same extent.  

Importantly, the Clean Air Act mandates that EPA set air pollution standards to protect these most vulnerable or “at risk” persons. 

Epidemiologic studies—studies involving a large segment of the population—indicate that air pollutants can affect lung development and function, and other pathologic airway changes commonly occurring in asthmatics.

My EPA colleagues and our partners try, therefore, to assess which agents or “triggers” in the outdoor or indoor air are most likely to be problematic for asthmatics.  Our studies are providing the biologic evidence to support the associations found in epidemiologic reports.

In keeping with Asthma Awareness Month, please return to this blog site throughout the week and the rest of May, and in the months that follow, to learn how EPA scientists are investigating links between asthma (and related respiratory disease) with exposure to ambient (outdoor) air pollution and pollutant mixtures, including  near-road air pollutants. 

EPA researchers will also blog about how indoor allergens (e.g., molds), sensitizing chemicals (e.g., platinum), and novel agents (e.g., biofuels) may relate to asthma. You can also read about scientists who are using innovative approaches to understand how climate change (e.g., heat stress, increased allergen blooms) ─ often occurring in combination with increasing exposure to envi­ron­mental agents (e.g., wildfires) ─ may disproportionately impact these “at risk” populations. 

Please stay tuned. 

About the author:  Dr. Jan Dye is a health effects researcher in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.  She is a Project Lead for the Air, Climate, and Energy program’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards and Multipollutant Project on susceptibility to air pollutants.