Air pollution is linked to tens of thousands of deaths each year. Yet, when scientists conduct toxicology studies in the lab to measure pollutants, some of the worst ones often fly under the radar, say researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
So William Vizuete, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is looking for easier, more effective ways of finding and measuring the toxic pollutants that people actually breathe, especially in cities.
The Toxic Mix
As well as pollutants that are directly emitted from sources such as automobiles and industrial stacks, people also breathe a mixture of others that are made in the air by chemical reactions. Pollutants made in the air are typically not measured or even known. Vizuete and his fellow researchers are studying not only the effects of individual pollutants, but how they affect people in combination with each other.
Capturing The Sun's Effect
Studies in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health's rooftop environmental chamber, where air quality is examined, have shown that pollutants are five to ten times more harmful when aged in sunlight. Impact: Improving Air Quality
Vizuete and his team are applying new technology to study air pollution and lung cell damage, first in their laboratory smog chambers, then in the field. This data will help create comprehensive models of air pollution chemistry and toxicity and help identify the pollutants that are harmful to people's lungs.
The researchers are also developing a portable device that would allow them to use cultured human lung cells to study air in the field where actual pollution occurs. The chamber data and new biological instrumentation will be made available to others.