Skip to content

Global Air Pollution

Air pollution is the world's largest single environmental health risk with more than 7 million deaths occurring from air pollution exposure. Sources of this pollution are numerous and include both indoor and outdoor sources. Primary pollutants are particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen and sulfur oxides, radon and volatile organic compounds. Combustion sources, manufacturing effluents, and emissions from everyday products, like toys and indoor furnishings, and daily activities, such as cleaning and cooking, contribute complex mixtures of gases and particles to the air.

The majority of people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors where the air is two to five times more polluted than the outdoor air. Indoor air quality, an important predictor of health, is associated with a wide range of health outcomes, ranging from asthma exacerbation to cancer.

More than 4 million deaths are attributed to household indoor air. Our efforts focus on identifying chemical and particle sources of pollution and human exposure routes to advance solutions for preventing disease and improving public health outcomes. Chemical Insights is currently conducting scientific research to determine the influence of air pollutant exposure on the respiratory health of school children in China. Conducted jointly with Duke University, Shanghai Children's Hospital, and Tsinghua University, a field sampling study is characterizing indoor and outdoor chemical and particle air pollution to which asthmatic children are exposed. The study is being conducted near Shanghai, a location characterized by extremely high pollutant concentrations.

The study design involves following 40 to 60 school children over the course of several days four times (once each season) throughout a one-year period. We are measuring both indoor and outdoor concentrations of particulate matter, ozone and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including select aldehydes using sensors and real-time monitoring.

For particulate matter, we are characterizing specific chemical components associated with acute respiratory responses in humans as well as ultrafine particle concentrations. The measurements will allow us to assess the sources of particulate matter both indoors and outdoors, as well as the contributions of outdoor pollutants to indoor concentrations.

In addition, we are using personal exposure monitors to determine time-integrated exposures to a variety of pollutants including formaldehyde and VOCs. A key biological component of this study is looking at noninvasive biomarkers in children that are indicators of respiratory inflammatory response. These will include compounds in urine and breath condensate.

Additional complementary measurements will be made including exhaled nitric oxide, which is a marker for acute oxidative stress.

Interested in learning more about air pollution? Read about Chemical Insights in the news or access the group’s archived publication library.