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Superfund and EPA Host Combustion By-Products Congress

By Eddy Ball
January 2009

A bearded man in suit and tie speaks at a podium
Suk's opening remarks reflected the trend to combine climate and air quality studies in a cross-disciplinary global research agenda. He observed that "biomass fuel emissions affect two to three billion people worldwide and lead to more than 150,000 premature births each year," as those same emissions contribute to climate change. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Two men stand behind a podium. One holds an award plaque as the other prepares to receive it.
Don Lucas, Ph.D., right, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory held the Adel Sarofim Award plaque (see text box) before presenting it to the group's Chair of the Executive Committee, SRP grantee ( Barry Dellinger, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

A seated, smiling lady with hands folded on chin
SRP Program Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., enjoyed a little comic relief during talks on the first day of the meeting. She introduced the second round of plenary speakers on June 2. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

A man with a tie stands in front of a projected image as he speaks. The image is projecting onto his face and shirt.
Abandoning his laser pointer, Bachmann favored a hands-on approach as he explained that "accidentally on-purpose [regulation] really worked" in the early years, although current and future challenges require a more systematic, integrated approach to risk assessment. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

A smiling man in suit and tie stands at a podium and points outside the image
Dockery gestured as he related the success story of air quality regulation in Dublin, Ireland. After the Irish government banned the sale of coal there in 1990, PM emissions dropped by 70 percent and air pollution-related mortality declined across the board by seven percent. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

A man (foreground) and woman (background) listen intently to a presentation
Among the attendees were LSU Research Associate Lavrent Khachatryan, Ph.D., left, who participates in SRP-funded research efforts, and NIEHS Scientific Review Branch Science Review Administrator Sally Eckert-Tilotta, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

A cross disciplinary group of scientists gathered June 1-3 at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Research Triangle Park, N.C. for the 11th International Congress on Combustion By-Products and Their Health Effects. The event was sponsored by the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) (, EPA, Louisiana State University (LSU), National Science Foundation (NSF), Electric Power Research Institute and Navistar.

Organized around the theme of "Combustion Engineering and Global Health in the 21st Century: Issues and Challenges," the meeting brought together specialists in engineering, chemistry, biomedicine, toxicology and risk assessment, to interact and discuss recent developments and future goals in the control of combustion by-products and understanding of the effects of exposure on human and ecological health. Among the session speakers was 2006 NIEHS Outstanding New Environmental Scientists awardee and LSU Medical Center Assistant Professor Stephania Cormier, Ph.D. ( Exit NIEHS (see related story).

Representing the hosting agencies were NIEHS SRP Director William Suk, Ph.D., and U.S. EPA National Program Director of the Clean Air Research Program Dan Costa, Sci.D. They welcomed attendees and set the stage for plenary talks by John Bachmann, Ph.D., former EPA policy director and president of Vision Air Consulting, and NIEHS grantee ( Douglas Dockery, Sc.D., principal investigator on the breakthrough Six Cities Study ( Exit NIEHS and a professor in the Harvard University School of Public Health.

Bachmann, who spent most of his career at EPA in regulation, surveyed the highs and lows of federal air quality regulation in a talk titled "Hap-hazard: Regulation of Toxic Air Pollutants in the 20th and 21st Centuries." He presented cost-benefit analyses to support his call for an integrated approach to regulation of particulate matter (PM) and pointed to "win-win" strategies such as a pilot diesel truck stop electrification project that demonstrated dramatic reductions in idling emissions while also reducing use of fuel.

Dockery ( Exit NIEHS reviewed some of the best-known air pollution disasters and his group's Six Cities epidemiology studies that began in 1974. He said the "evidence is overwhelming on the mortal effects of chronic exposure." He observed that, in initial and follow-up studies, "as PM 2.5 [micron] concentrations went up, we saw increased mortality." Dockery maintained that air quality regulations contributed significantly to the increased life expectancy reported in his 2009 New England Journal of Medicine study ( Exit NIEHS.

In her talk the following day, EPA and NSF grantee Kimberly Prather, Ph.D. ( Exit NIEHS, a professor of chemistry at the University of California (UC), San Diego, described how she has adapted mass spectrometry to perform real-time "on-the-fly" single particle analysis for developing "fingerprints" for pinpointing the sources of air pollution. Observing that "aerosols contain thousands of organic species," she said that rather than trying to regulate individual species and metals, identifying and regulating the sources - autos, trucks, ship exhaust from nearby ports and biomass burning - may offer a better strategy for improving air quality.

Reporting on work supported by an SRP grant (, Ian Kennedy, Ph.D., a professor of engineering at UC, Davis, followed Prather with a talk on "Engineered Ultrafine Particles for Health Effects Studies." As Kennedy ( Exit NIEHS explained, nanoscale metal oxides constitute an important subclass of the PM emissions from combustion sources. His lab is pursuing studies of the relative toxicity of the different metals found in air, as well as identifying what variables affect the bioavailability of nanoscale particles.

On June 3, Robert Devlin, Ph.D., chief of the Clinical Research Branch of the EPA Human Studies Division, gave the meeting's final plenary talk on continuing research needs, "Health Effects of PM: What Can We Learn from Toxicology Studies?" Devlin addressed the central paradox of air pollution health effects research - why some groups of people appear to have clinically significant adverse health effects from exposures, while others do not - and called for more research into understanding research into the biomolecular mechanisms of air pollution and subsequent health effects.

A woman stands at a podium and gestures with a laser pointer at a presentation
Prather said her team matches readouts of mass spectrometry peaks from ambient air samples to a library of "fingerprints" to identify specific sources of air pollution and their respective contributions to total burden. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

A man stands behind a podium and speaks with arms crossed
At the end of his talk, Kennedy joked about California's budget crisis. "I'll be happy to take questions," he quipped, "but, coming from the University of California, I'd be even happier to take donations." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Recognizing an Outstanding Scientist -
Veteran Superfund Grantee Barry Dellinger, Ph.D.

On June 1, the 11th International Congress on Combustion By-Products and Their Health Effects honored one of its own, when LSU environmental chemist Barry Dellinger, Ph.D. ( Exit NIEHS, received the group's Adel Sarofim Award for Excellence in Combustion Research.

The award is named for chemical engineer and combustion research pioneer Adel Sarofim, Ph.D., who is currently the Presidential Professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Utah. Work by the former Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor spanning more than 50 years has led to important advances in combustion science and reductions in the release of pollutants from fossil fuel combustion.

As presenter Don Lucas explained in presenting the award, "Barry and his colleagues studied how polychlorinated dioxins and furans are formed, including, and especially under, pyrolysis [high-temperature burning] and post-flame combustion conditions." Lucas also said Dellinger has helped to cultivate an "interface between biomedicine and engineering to determine the actual mechanism of biological activity, the source of [persistent, combustion-generated] radicals and their fate at atmospheric conditions."

As the many session presentations at the meeting bearing his imprint demonstrated, Dellinger is also an accomplished mentor and leader who is helping to shape the cross-disciplinary directions of transformational research in the field.

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