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Collaborating for Cleaner Air

Tech-Emory partnership seeks new ways to protect us from pollution

Already a model of collaboration in bioengineering, Emory and Georgia Tech are building on their strong research partnerships to answer important questions about air pollution and our health.

The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology one of four U.S. Clean Air Research Centers, with a five-year, $8 million grant. This new Southeastern Center for Air Pollution and Epidemiology – SCAPE – will find better ways to address air quality and protect Americans from air pollution.

“This center is the culmination of a 10-year collaboration between Emory and Georgia Tech on air pollution research,” said Armistead (Ted) Russell, Georgia Power Distinguished Professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech. “By coalescing into a center, we can take this work to a new level.”

Researchers at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health will analyze data that links air quality with health in children and adults, including birth outcomes, asthma and cardiac illness. Air-quality engineers and scientists from Georgia Tech will develop and apply detailed measurements and new modeling techniques to identify and track atmospheric contaminants -- and mixtures of contaminants.

Together, researchers will characterize air pollution mixtures based on mechanism of action and sources of pollutants. And they will study the health effects of mixtures of air pollutants people are exposed to. 

“We anticipate that we’ll achieve insights into what aspects of the air pollution mixture are most harmful and how the pollutants act together, information that can be directly used to target control measures to most effectively protect the public’s health,” said Paige Tolbert, professor and chair of environmental health at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health.

Researchers in the new center will work on four interrelated projects. 

Measuring air pollution:
The SCAPE team will develop and deploy new instruments to measure oxidants and other pollutants that are suspected of causing adverse health effects. The project will focus on how these pollutants are generated, transformed and distributed. And it will characterize ambient air pollution for the three health studies.  

Traffic emissions and our health: Emory and Georgia Tech researchers will conduct an intensive study of commuters in metro Atlanta to examine their exposure to complex particulate mixtures and heart and lung conditions. The study will be among the first to measure several highly sensitive, non-invasive biomarkers of oxidative stress in relation to air pollution exposure.  

Babies and air pollution: Researchers will study two birth cohorts to assess whether air pollution mixtures during pregnancy increase risk for preterm delivery or reduced birth weight; whether children born prematurely are more sensitive to ambient air pollution; and whether exposure to air pollution in the first year of life puts children at greater risk of developing asthma.  

Air and health in 5 cities: How do differences in the mix of air pollutants, weather, the population’s susceptibility and other factors explain differences in the association of air pollution and cardiac and respiratory illness? Researchers will study air quality and acute health outcomes in five U.S. cities. The results will clarify the combined impact of these factors on acute cardiorespiratory conditions across the United States. 

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