Project explores link between air pollution and toxicity
A $330,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will support research into mechanisms by which air pollution – specifically airborne dust particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers, or PM2.5 – induces toxicity in humans. CEE assistant professor Vishal Verma will lead this three-year project.
Research has shown that exposure to high concentrations of PM2.5 can lead to a variety of health problems such as asthma, decreased lung function and cardiovascular disease. In particular, the oxidative potential (OP) of PM2.5 is believed to be an important indicator of toxicity. However, the exact nature of the relationship between PM2.5 OP and toxicity is still unclear.
“Oxidative potential is an emerging concept which has been purported as a health relevant property of the ambient PM2.5,” Verma said. “However, the problem with OP is that there are many methods to measure it and the research community has not been able to make consensus on the most appropriate methods. There have been no systematic studies comparing the response of all OP methods to the toxicity.”
This study will address this knowledge gap and provide important data on mechanistic linkage between PM 2.5 OP and toxicity, Verma said. To achieve this, he will compare the results of several OP assays with observed cellular toxicity of PM2.5 samples collected from polluted sites around the world.
“PM2.5 chemical composition is highly dependent on the emission sources and therefore there is a large spatial variability in the OP of the ambient PM2.5, which can bias the relationship between OP and toxicity,” Verma said. “To remove this bias, our project will use the samples from nine different sites scattered all around the globe.”
By the end of this project, Verma hopes to be able to provide clear guidance on the most appropriate method(s) to measure the OP of particles as a reflection of aerosol toxicity. Ultimately, this could lead to better identification of the most toxic sources of PM2.5 and much-improved air pollution management.
Verma joined the CEE at Illinois faculty in 2015, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on aerosol sampling and analysis and public health engineering. His research focuses on identifying the components of ambient particulate matter and their emission sources, which are most responsible for inducing the adverse health effects in humans. An NSF CAREER award supported Verma’s earlier project on measuring the OP of PM2.5.