With the founding of the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, regulation of air pollution in the US was strengthened. But it was unclear which pollutants should be considered of greatest concern. Launched soon after the founding of EPA with one of the early grants from the US National Institutes of Health, the Harvard Six City study set out to investigate the relationship of air pollution and health. When results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in the early 1990s, they pointed to fine particulate matter, PM2.5, as the main culprit. They also showed that the largest health effects were not respiratory, as was and still is often thought, but instead cardiovascular mortality. As with tobacco, the Harvard researchers faced a strong push back by industry that challenged their integrity and fueled a large scale media battle. Nevertheless, the EPA added PM2.5 as a regulated pollutant and reanalysis of the Harvard data vindicated their work, as have many other lines of research since.
KeywordsAmbient particulate matter Harvard Six Cities study Fine PM Industry push back US EPA Cardiovascular health
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