There’s certainly no question that air pollution is bad for you. Those of us who live in urban areas are all too familiar with “ozone action days” where young children, the elderly, and those with breathing or lung disorders, and compromised immune systems are advised to stay indoors because the air is just too “dirty” to breathe. But does air pollution also contribute to other conditions such as heart disease? That’s the question that researchers at Michigan State University will be attempting to answer over the next five years.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently identified Michigan State University as a Clean Air Research Center. Backed by an $8 million grant, the Great Lakes Air Center for Integrative Environmental Research will engage in three separate research programs examining the effect of air pollution and ozone on metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is not a single condition, but rather a collection of risk factors which contribute to the development of heart disease (atherosclerosis) and diabetes. The risk factors include such things as a large waistline or excess belly fat, high triglyceride levels (type of fat in the blood), low levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL or “good”) cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood glucose or fasting blood sugar levels (possible indicator of diabetes), and obesity. A person is considered to have metabolic syndrome if they possess at least three metabolic risk factors.
The research programs at the University of Michigan’s newly established Clean Air Research Center will focus on such things as:
• how air pollution contributes to the development of cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance
• how short-term exposure to air pollution affects insulin resistance and high blood pressure
• evaluate effects of long-term exposure to air pollution
In addition to the University of Michigan, three other universities were also designated as Clean Air Research Centers - Harvard University, the University of Washington in Seattle, and Emory University/Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.