A team of researchers led by a Michigan State University professor will understand the damaging health effects of air pollution through a mobile lab. The team will also attempt to understand why certain airborne particles - emitted from plants and vehicles - induce disease and illness.
Jack Harkema, a University Distinguished Professor of pathobiology and diagnostic investigation in the College of Veterinary Medicine, will deploy the new 53-foot, 36,000-pound center - dubbed "AirCARE 2" - throughout southern Michigan, including metropolitan Detroit.
"The mobile laboratory allows us to analyze 'real-world' pollution in communities that may be at risk," he said.
"We can study why certain ailments, such as asthma, cardiovascular disease and even obesity, may be more pronounced after exposure to particulate air pollution," he added.
With about 450 square feet of indoor laboratory space, the 400,000 dollars center helps researchers study fine and ultrafine particles in air pollution.
These small particles have been found to increase mortality and morbidity among susceptible people with pre-existing health conditions such as heart disease.
Housed in a converted semitrailer, the mobile laboratory pulls air from the surrounding atmosphere through an air-particle concentrator, allowing the scientists to selectively collect the particles and analyze for chemical components that may be responsible for damaging health effects.
Researchers can study the subtle effects of controlled particle exposure on both laboratory animals and human subjects, providing clues on why and how pollutant particles are so harmful to the heart and lungs.
"We know particles in the air can exacerbate pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease in people," Harkema said.
"We need to understand why. There are many different components to air pollution, and we want to determine which of these are most harmful and where there come from," he added.
The addition of the new mobile laboratory allows Harkema and U-M collaborators Robert Brook, a cardiologist, and Gerald Keeler, an atmospheric scientist, to conduct a new study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency.
As part of the project, Harkema, Brook and Keeler will deploy AirCARE 2 in rural southeastern Michigan to study the cardiovascular health effects of transported air pollution originating from distant emission sites in Michigan or adjacent states.