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The Particulate Air Pollution Controversy


Scientists, regulators, legislators, and segments of industry and the lay public are attempting to understand and respond to epidemiology findings of associations between measures of modern particulate air pollutants (PM) and adverse health outcomes in urban dwellers. The associations have been interpreted to imply that tens of thousands of Americans are killed annually by small daily increments in PM. These epidemiology studies and their interpretations have been challenged, although it is accepted that high concentrations of air pollutants have claimed many lives in the past. Although reproducible and statistically significant, the relative risks associated with modern PM are very small and confounded by many factors. Neither toxicology studies nor human clinical investigations have identified the components and/or characteristics of PM that might be causing the health-effect associations. Currently, a massive worldwide research effort is under way in an attempt to identify whom might be harmed and by what substances and mechanisms. Finding the answers is important, because control measures have the potential not only to be costly but also to limit the availability of goods and services that are important to public health.

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