Academics & Faculty

UCLA Researchers Will Lead $11-Million, Five-Year Study of Particulate Air Pollution in South Coast Air Basin


Researchers from the UCLA Institute of the Environment and the Schoolof Public Health have received $11.2 million in state and federal grantsto create a multi-university center for studying air pollution caused bytiny particulate matter in the Los Angeles area.

The Southern California Center for Airborne Particulate Matter willbetter determine the sources of particulate pollution, probe the chemicalnature of particles and investigate the health effects of breathing particulates.Particles are microscopic dust created by combustion of fuels, erosionfrom automobile tires, industrial releases, natural phenomena such as firesand wind, and many other means.

Funded by an $8.7-million grant from the U.S. Environmental ProtectionAgency and a $2.5-million grant from the California Air Resources Board,the center will take part in a national effort to better define and understandair pollution caused by particulate matter.

"This study will not only have major implications for the SouthCoast Air Basin, but for air-pollution policy on the national and internationallevel as well," said center director John Froines, a UCLA School ofPublic Health toxicologist who heads the 30-person research effort. "Thisregion has one of the best collections of air-pollution scientists in thecountry and this is the first time we have all collaborated together ona project of this magnitude."

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who strongly supported UCLA'sapplication for EPA funding, said, "This is great news for UCLA andfor Southern California. Particulate air pollution is hazardous to thehealth of everyone in the Los Angeles air basin, especially children. WithEPA's assistance, the Southern California Center for Airborne ParticulateMatter will enhance our ability to understand particulate pollution andprotect public health."

Particulate matter is one of the worst air-pollution problems in thefour-county South Coast Air Basin. Research has shown that breathing thetiny particles can increase asthma attacks and cause childhood respiratoryproblems. Particulate pollution is blamed for the premature deaths of thousandsof Americans every year.

In addition to involving 16 researchers at UCLA, the study will includeresearchers from the University of Southern California; the Universityof California, Riverside; the University of California, Irvine; the CaliforniaInstitute of Technology; and Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center.

A key component will be construction of a transportable exposure facilityto study how exposure to different types of particulate pollution affectsthe public health. The one-of-a-kind "concentrator" will allowresearchers to conduct exposure studies using samples of particulates actuallycollected from the region's air, rather than created in a laboratory.

The concentrator, supported by the California Air Resources Board grant,will be the only one in the world capable of isolating ultrafine and coarseparticulate matter. The equipment will be built through a collaborationof scientists and engineers at UCLA and USC.

"This equipment will allow us to investigate the health effectsof particulates using a realistic sample of the air people breathe in theLos Angeles region, which has a broad array of chemical contaminants,"Froines said.

Particulates in the South Coast Air Basin include organic compoundsfrom fuel combustion, heavy metals created by erosion and materials calledbioaerosols such as pollen and fungi. By applying the new tools, researchershope to learn something about the relative health hazards posed by thedifferent pollutants.

"We know that particulate air pollution causes health problems,"Froines said. "But we don't know much about the relative health risksposed by the different chemical components that make up particulate pollution.This center will seek to examine that issue."

The particulate project will be done in association with the Universityof Southern California's Children's Health Study, which is following 3,600schoolchildren in 12 local communities to study the chronic health effectscaused by air pollution. Preliminary results from that study suggest arelationship between particulate pollution and chronic respiratory problems.

In addition to the UCLA School of Public Health, the particulate researchcenter includes UCLA faculty members from the College of Letters and Science,the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.The UCLA Institute of the Environment brings together faculty and professionalsfrom diverse disciplines to organize and direct multidisciplinary research,teaching and community outreach focused on complex environmental issuesat the local, national and international levels.

The Southern California Center for Airborne Particulate Matter is oneof five particulate research centers awarded grants as part of an EPA effortto learn more about the health problems caused by exposure to particlepollution.

Other institutions receiving EPA grants are the University of Rochester,the University of Washington, New York University School of Medicine andthe Harvard School of Public Health.



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