Clearing the Air

By Wayne Cascio, MD

Stethoscope and EKG. There have been some recent allegations about EPA’s critical scientific research into how air pollution might contribute to abnormal heart rhythms. It is especially important during Air Quality Awareness Month to clear the air with the facts about our research efforts on behalf of the American people.

EPA’s research into the health impacts of air pollution has helped to build healthier communities, provide new technology and develop new solutions to protect and manage air quality.  In the case of research into fine particle pollution, more than 50 clinical studies over the past decade involving human volunteers have been published by scientists from EPA, many U.S. universities and medical centers that describe cardiac effects in humans exposed to this harmful pollution.

As an Agency dedicated to the protection of human health (and as a doctor myself), the Agency takes its responsibilities working with volunteers very, very seriously.

EPA follows the Common Rule which requires the ethical review and oversight of human research by an independent institutional review board (IRB) to ensure that any risks to study volunteers are minimized and justified.  EPA follows strict human safety protocols for all of its studies, and these protocols are reviewed and approved by an IRB before any human study is conducted.  Precautions are taken throughout the volunteer’s participation to ensure his or her safety.

In the case of EPA’s research on particle pollution, scientists studied biological changes that carry no or minimal risk while providing evidence for the reasons that particle pollution can lead to serious health problems.

EPA’s health based standards for fine particulate matter protect the public from serious health problems, which can include aggravated asthma, increased hospital admissions, heart attacks and premature death.  Individuals who are more sensitive to fine particle exposure include people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children.

In the U.S. a heart attack occurs every 34 seconds and more than 2,200 people die of cardiovascular disease each day.  It is estimated that tens of thousands of premature deaths and non-fatal heart attacks are triggered by air pollution—emphasizing the importance of research in this field.

The health scientists and staff at EPA are privileged to provide safe, ethical, unbiased, and state-of-the-art inhalation science in support of the Clean Air Act as we work to define and understand the risks of air pollution to the American people.

About the Author: Dr. Wayne E. Cascio, is the Director of EPA’s Environmental Public Health Division, a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina, and a cardiologist.

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