Epidemiologists study the factors that affect the health and illness of populations. These doctors and scientists know from years of research that particulate matter air pollution causes people to suffer from some forms of heart disease which, for some, can have fatal consequences.
But what is causing this? The term “particulate matter” (PM) describes a wide range of particles, and what isn’t clear is the direct effect of specific particulate matter components. Determining exactly what role each different component found in PM pollution—organics, metals, ultrafines, etc —plays in our everyday cardiovascular health is what Mark J. Utell, with the help of the University of Rochester, is measuring. Researchers suspect ultrafine particles, the very smallest of these particles at less than 100 nanometers in diameter, play a significant role in causing ill health.
A team of varied experts was put together to participate in this project, including: epidemiologists, who study factors of health and illness in populations; environmental health scientists, who study relationships between health and the environment; cardiologists, who deal with heart and blood vessel illness and health; analytical chemists, who study chemical composition of natural and artificial materials, primarily at the molecular level; and biostatisticians, who use math to analyze, understand, and interpret data to establish relationships between factors.
The research team’s observational study incorporates several research elements. The data collection of the current project tests patients at a cardiac rehabilitation center who are recovering from serious heart attacks. The team records sensitive heart electrophysiological measurements—the electrical signals emitted by biological cells and tissues—during rehab exercise and collects blood samples. Similar cardiovascular endpoints have been examined in other subgroup populations in Rochester, NY, allowing the researchers to compare data.
Information from this study offers a better assessment of adverse health effects from inhalation of common pollutants. Considering this direct relationship along with environmental conditions and populations becomes a basis for understanding more general health risks. This data can and hopefully will be helpful in creating public policy that addresses ultrafine particles, large particulate matter, and air quality in general.