Environmental Factor, July 2009, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Superfund and EPA Host Combustion By-Products Congress
By Eddy Ball
A cross disciplinary group of scientists gathered June 1-3 at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Research Triangle Park, N.C. for the 11th International Congress on Combustion By-Products and Their Health Effects. The event was sponsored by the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/srp/index.cfm), EPA, Louisiana State University (LSU), National Science Foundation (NSF), Electric Power Research Institute and Navistar.
Organized around the theme of "Combustion Engineering and Global Health in the 21st Century: Issues and Challenges," the meeting (http://www.lsu.edu/piccongress/) brought together specialists in engineering, chemistry, biomedicine, toxicology and risk assessment, to interact and discuss recent developments and future goals in the control of combustion by-products and understanding of the effects of exposure on human and ecological health. Among the session speakers was 2006 NIEHS Outstanding New Environmental Scientists awardee and LSU Medical Center Assistant Professor Stephania Cormier, Ph.D. (http://www.srp.lsu.edu/AbouttheResearchTeam/item22760.html) (see related story).
Representing the hosting agencies were NIEHS SRP Director William Suk, Ph.D., and U.S. EPA National Program Director of the Clean Air Research Program Dan Costa, Sci.D. They welcomed attendees and set the stage for plenary talks by John Bachmann, Ph.D., former EPA policy director and president of Vision Air Consulting, and NIEHS grantee (http://tools.niehs.nih.gov/portfolio/index.cfm/portfolio/grantDetail/grant_number/P30ES000002) Douglas Dockery, Sc.D., principal investigator on the breakthrough Six Cities Study (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/f12-six-cities-environmental-health-air-pollution/) and a professor in the Harvard University School of Public Health.
Bachmann, who spent most of his career at EPA in regulation, surveyed the highs and lows of federal air quality regulation in a talk titled "Hap-hazard: Regulation of Toxic Air Pollutants in the 20th and 21st Centuries." He presented cost-benefit analyses to support his call for an integrated approach to regulation of particulate matter (PM) and pointed to "win-win" strategies such as a pilot diesel truck stop electrification project that demonstrated dramatic reductions in idling emissions while also reducing use of fuel.
Dockery (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/faculty/douglas-dockery/) reviewed some of the best-known air pollution disasters and his group's Six Cities epidemiology studies that began in 1974. He said the "evidence is overwhelming on the mortal effects of chronic exposure." He observed that, in initial and follow-up studies, "as PM 2.5 [micron] concentrations went up, we saw increased mortality." Dockery maintained that air quality regulations contributed significantly to the increased life expectancy reported in his 2009 New England Journal of Medicine study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19164188?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum) .
In her talk the following day, EPA and NSF grantee Kimberly Prather, Ph.D. (http://atofms.ucsd.edu/kprather) , a professor of chemistry at the University of California (UC), San Diego, described how she has adapted mass spectrometry to perform real-time "on-the-fly" single particle analysis for developing "fingerprints" for pinpointing the sources of air pollution. Observing that "aerosols contain thousands of organic species," she said that rather than trying to regulate individual species and metals, identifying and regulating the sources - autos, trucks, ship exhaust from nearby ports and biomass burning - may offer a better strategy for improving air quality.
Reporting on work supported by an SRP grant (http://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/people/details.cfm?person_id=4212), Ian Kennedy, Ph.D., a professor of engineering at UC, Davis, followed Prather with a talk on "Engineered Ultrafine Particles for Health Effects Studies." As Kennedy (http://mae.ucdavis.edu/faculty/kennedy/) explained, nanoscale metal oxides constitute an important subclass of the PM emissions from combustion sources. His lab is pursuing studies of the relative toxicity of the different metals found in air, as well as identifying what variables affect the bioavailability of nanoscale particles.
On June 3, Robert Devlin, Ph.D., chief of the Clinical Research Branch of the EPA Human Studies Division, gave the meeting's final plenary talk on continuing research needs, "Health Effects of PM: What Can We Learn from Toxicology Studies?" Devlin addressed the central paradox of air pollution health effects research - why some groups of people appear to have clinically significant adverse health effects from exposures, while others do not - and called for more research into understanding research into the biomolecular mechanisms of air pollution and subsequent health effects.
Recognizing an Outstanding Scientist -
Veteran Superfund Grantee Barry Dellinger, Ph.D.
On June 1, the 11th International Congress on Combustion By-Products and Their Health Effects honored one of its own, when LSU environmental chemist Barry Dellinger, Ph.D. (http://srp.lsu.edu/AbouttheResearchTeam/item22767.html) , received the group's Adel Sarofim Award for Excellence in Combustion Research.
The award is named for chemical engineer and combustion research pioneer Adel Sarofim, Ph.D., who is currently the Presidential Professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Utah. Work by the former Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor spanning more than 50 years has led to important advances in combustion science and reductions in the release of pollutants from fossil fuel combustion.
As presenter Don Lucas explained in presenting the award, "Barry and his colleagues studied how polychlorinated dioxins and furans are formed, including, and especially under, pyrolysis [high-temperature burning] and post-flame combustion conditions." Lucas also said Dellinger has helped to cultivate an "interface between biomedicine and engineering to determine the actual mechanism of biological activity, the source of [persistent, combustion-generated] radicals and their fate at atmospheric conditions."
As the many session presentations at the meeting bearing his imprint demonstrated, Dellinger is also an accomplished mentor and leader who is helping to shape the cross-disciplinary directions of transformational research in the field.