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Semi-continuous speciation analyses for ambient air particulate matter: An urgent need for health effects studies


One of the most urgent needs for future progress in reducing the substantial impacts of ambient air particulate matter (PM) on human health is to determine which of its components are having the greatest effects. The EPA's Speciation Trends Network (STN) has been operating since 2000. It generates 24-h average fine PM component concentrations for sulfate and nitrate ions, elemental and organic carbon (EC/OC), and many elements on an every third or sixth day basis for one or a few sites in most large US cities. To date, a small number of research studies, summarized in this paper, have used available STN and other supplemental data to identify and quantify the influences of specific components or source-related mixtures on measures of health-related impacts. These pioneering studies have demonstrated the potential utility of using such data in analyses that can provide a sound basis for guiding future research and control activities on those PM sources that have the greatest public health relevance. Unfortunately, the STN data collection methods used are expensive, and data have therefore been too sparse for studies of short-term health effects, where semi-continuous data, or at least daily 24-h concentration data are needed, as well as for regional concentration distributions that are needed for definitive analyses. Furthermore, because of cost considerations, there is virtually no prospect of collecting the data needed by the health researchers for more definitive analyses as long as there is continued reliance on current FRM sampling and analysis methodologies. At the second EPA-HEI Workshop on “Air Quality and Health Researchers Working Together” in RTP, NC on 16 and 17 April 2008, many participants concluded that it was both desirable, and possibly technically and economically feasible, to re-equip the STN sites with an automated system of semi-continuous monitors for sulfate, nitrate, EC, OC, and semi-continuous multistage PM samplers for non-volatile elements, providing continuous records of PM components with an averaging time of 6 h for both thoracic coarse mode PM, fine PM, and perhaps ultrafine PM as well. The availability of such data would greatly accelerate the accumulation of knowledge on PM component exposure–response relationships that would provide a sound basis more targeted air quality standards and pollution control measures.

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  1. HEI and EPA co-sponsored a meeting in late 2006 to discuss how the use of the accumulating data derived from nationwide monitoring of fine particulate matter (PM) components can facilitate current and future health effects studies and improve comparisons of risk estimates across studies. The workshop discussions illuminated issues associated with accessing and analyzing monitoring data and identified needs of the health effects research community regarding monitoring of fine particle components. See for more information.


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The preparation of this paper was supported by a research grant from the Health Effects Institute, and is part of a Center Program supported by Grant ES 00260 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

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Correspondence to Morton Lippmann.

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On the basis of an invited lecture entitled: “Air Quality and Health Researchers Working Together: Stories of Success”, and invited commentary at the Workshop closing session, both presented the EPA/HEI Second Workshop to Discuss Key Issues on Ambient Air Quality and Health Research at Research Triangle Park, NC, 16 and 17 April 2008.

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Lippmann, M. Semi-continuous speciation analyses for ambient air particulate matter: An urgent need for health effects studies. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 19, 235–247 (2009).

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  • health effects
  • particulate matter
  • semi-continuous analyses
  • size-selective sampling
  • speciation
  • X-ray fluorescence

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