Verma leading research into toxicity of Indoor air pollution


A CEE research team aims to advance knowledge about indoor air pollution, a major health concern

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Stock photo depicting indoor air pollution

Indoor air pollution is largely unregulated and not well understood. Exposure to inhalable fine particulate matter (PM2.5), particularly indoor concentrations, is known to be harmful, but the causal mechanisms are unclear. In a new study funded by the National Science Foundation and led by CEE Associate Professor Vishal Verma, researchers from both UIUC and Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago will advance understanding of the sources and health effects of a range of indoor air pollutants and provide an important benchmark for future studies.

Vishal Verma“Indoor air pollution ranks ninth among 69 risk factors of disease globally that are believed to be preventable,” Verma wrote. “More than 4% of all global deaths are attributed to indoor air pollution.”

One of the most hazardous components of indoor air pollution is PM2.5. Although ambient PM2.5 concentrations are highly regulated, there are no regulatory standards for indoor PM2.5 concentrations. Recent studies have shown that PM2.5 mass is not the best proxy for its health effects and that the PM mixtures arising from pertinent sources in different microenvironments could be vastly different in toxicity, Verma wrote. 

A promising measure that has recently demonstrated credibility in epidemiological studies is the PM-driven cellular oxidative stress created by excess reactive oxygen species (ROS). The capability of PM2.5 to generate ROS or consume antioxidants is called the oxidative potential (OP), or ROS activity. Recent epidemiological studies have shown stronger associations between OP and specific health endpoints than with PM mass concentrations alone. However, these studies have focused only on ambient measurements, while the OP of PM2.5 in indoor environments, where most of the human exposure occurs, has hardly been investigated.

Verma’s team aims to fill that knowledge gap by comprehensively characterizing the origin of toxicity of indoor PM resulting from both indoor and ambient emission sources. They aim to investigate the evolution and dynamics of indoor OP resulting from indoor and ambient sources by developing and applying methods to measure OP source and sink processes; establish an indoor OP emissions inventory by measuring the ROS activity of PM2.5 emitted from a wide variety of indoor emission sources frequently present in buildings; and conduct field evaluation and pilot application of methods to measure OP source and loss functions in a real indoor environment to predict indoor OP.

The study, “Characterizing Sources and Sinks of the Oxidative Potential of Indoor Particulate Matter,” is funded by a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Researchers include professors Brent Stephens and Mohammad Heidarinejad from Illinois Tech. 

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This story was published September 8, 2023.