Read Full Report

Date: Aug. 18, 1999
Contacts: William Kearney, Media Relations Associate
Dumi Ndlovu, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <>


Publication Announcement

Steady Support of Research
on Toxic Airborne Particles Urged

To people suffering from asthma and other respiratory tract diseases, tiny particles from smoke, vehicle exhaust, dust, and other sources may present a serious health risk. Studies have shown that inhaling such airborne particulate matter can exacerbate lung ailments and other illnesses, even causing premature death in some instances. This led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1997 to tighten its standards for allowable particulate matter concentrations. At the same time, Congress and the agency initiated a multimillion dollar research effort to better understand the sources of these particles, the levels of exposure that people actually receive, which particle components are most likely to be harmful to human health, and the ways they cause damage.

Federal funding for this research endeavor should continue at levels slightly higher than last fiscal year, according to a new report from a committee of the National Research Council. The report is the second in a series requested by Congress to provide independent guidance to EPA on particulate matter research. Last year, Congress and EPA adopted many of the recommendations from the committee's first report, which called for significantly increased funding and higher priority to be given to research that will help meet the most critical needs for scientific data in this area.

The remaining 11 years of the committee's proposed 13-year research plan now is estimated to cost approximately $370 million, or an average of $33.6 million annually, the report says. The committee endorsed EPA's proposed budget of $51.6 million for particulate matter research in fiscal year 2000, plus $10.3 million for related technical work.

Airborne particulate matter includes a variety of materials emitted from industrial manufacturing processes, fossil fuel combustion, forest fires, electric power generation, soil erosion, and other sources. Certain gaseous emissions also may react with other chemicals in the atmosphere to form particles. When EPA placed stricter limits on particulate matter in 1997, it targeted particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, which are more likely than larger ones to reach deep into the lungs after being inhaled. Under the Clean Air Act, the agency is required to review the scientific basis for the regulations every five years to determine whether revisions are warranted. Last May, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit remanded the 1997 standards back to EPA for further clarification of the decision-making process and the criteria used to set them. But the Research Council committee's most recent report notes that public health and regulatory concerns will persist regardless of court decisions; and because reducing scientific uncertainty is critical for determining future public policy, EPA should carry on with its airborne particulate research agenda.

The report calls for a coordinated national effort to study particulate matter, involving other government agencies and private research organizations as well as EPA. With this in mind, EPA should pursue research that emphasizes collaboration across many scientific disciplines, agencies, and private organizations.

The committee updated the research recommendations from its first report, and called for the immediate planning and implementation of previously recommended research to examine the effects of long-term exposure to particulate matter. In addition, the committee recommended that public and private researchers focus on the improvement of methods for measuring the distribution of particles by size, analyzing their chemical composition, and characterizing relevant emissions from sources throughout the United States. This information is needed to develop and test computer models that predict particle concentrations and link field observations to emission sources. An online database of projects and research results should be created to communicate progress to the scientific community, policy-makers, and the public.

As the committee evaluates future particulate matter research, it will pay particular attention to the scientific quality, integration of public and private resources, how well results help reduce uncertainties faced by policy-makers, and the interaction between scientists. Its next report is expected in December 2000, with a final report due in 2002.

The study was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides independent advice on science and technology issues under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Read the full text of Research Priorities for Airborne Particulate Matter: II. Evaluating Research Progress and Updating the Portfoliofor free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web site or at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).

Commission on Life Sciences
Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources
Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology

Committee on Research Priorities for Airborne Particulate Matter

Jonathan Samet, M.D.1 (chair)
Professor and Chair
Department of Epidemiology
Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health

Glen R. Cass, Ph.D.
Professor of Environmental and Mechanical Engineering
California Institute of Technology

Judith C. Chow, Sc.D.
Research Professor
Energy and Environmental Engineering Center
Desert Research Institute
Reno, Nev.

Bart E. Croes, M.S.
Chief, Air Quality Data Branch
California Air Resources Board

Robert E. Forster, M.D.2
Isaac Ott Professor Emeritus
Department of Physiology
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Daniel S. Greenbaum, M.C.P.
President and Chief Executive Officer
Health Effects Institute
Cambridge, Mass.

Maureen Henderson, M.B.B.S., D.P.H.1
Professor Emeritus of Epidemiology and Medicine
University of Washington

Philip K. Hopke, Ph.D.
Robert A. Plane Professor of Chemistry, and
Dean of the Graduate School
Clarkson University
Pottsdam, N.Y.

Petros Koutrakis, Ph.D.
Professor of Environmental Sciences, and
Director, Environmental Chemistry Laboratory
Harvard School of Public Health

Daniel Krewski, M.H.A., Ph.D.
Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
University of Ottawa
Ontario, Canada

Paul James Lioy, Ph.D.
Professor of Environmental and Community Medicine
University of Medicine and Dentistry of
New Jersey

Joe L. Mauderly, D.V.M.
Senior Scientist
Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute
Albuquerque, N.M.

Roger O. McClellan, D.V.M.1
Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology
Research Triangle Park, N.C., and
Adjunct Professor of Toxicology
Duke University, North Carolina State University, and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Günter Oberdörster, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Department of Environmental Medicine, and
Head, Division of Respiratory Biology and Toxicology
University of Rochester
Rochester, N.Y.

Rebecca Parkin, M.P.H., Ph.D.
Associate Research Professor
George Washington University Medical Center
Washington, D.C.

Joyce Penner, Ph.D.
Professor of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and
Space Sciences
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

Richard Schlesinger, Ph.D.
Professor of Environmental Medicine
New York University School of Medicine, and
Director, Systemic Toxicology Program and
Laboratory for Pulmonary Biology and Toxicology
Tuxedo, N.Y.

Frank Speizer, M.D.
Professor of Medicine
Harvard Medical School, and
Professor of Environmental Science
Harvard School of Public Health

Mark Utell, M.D.
Professor of Medicine and Environmental Medicine
University of Rochester School of Medicine
Rochester, N.Y.

Ronald H. White, M.S.
Deputy Director of National Programs, and
Director of Tobacco Control and Environmental Health
American Lung Association
Washington, D.C.

Warren H. White, Ph.D.
Senior Research Associate
Washington University
St. Louis

Ronald Wyzga, M.S., Sc.D.
Technical Executive
Air Quality, Health, and Risk Environmental Group
Electric Power Research Institute
Palo Alto, Calif.

Terry Yosie, Ph.D.
Vice President
Chemical Manufacturers Association
Arlington, Va.


James J. Reisa, Ph.D.
Study Director

1 Member, Institute of Medicine
2 Member, National Academy of Sciences