The new research was unveiled last week during a press conference in Atlanta sponsored by the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit research center funded jointly by industry and the EPA.
In one study, researchers re-analyzed and validated two earlier studies by the Harvard School of Public Health used by the EPA to support the challenged particle soot standards. Both studies found that as particle pollution increased, so did deaths. Critics attacked the original studies because the researchers declined to turn confidential health information and other raw data over to industry lawyers. Under a compromise negotiated by EPA, the material was given to the HEI to review.
HEI also released another new study that found increases in premature death and hospitalizations linked to higher levels of soot particles. The research, led by investigations from John Hopkins University's School of Hygiene and Public Health, examined pollution effects in the 90 largest U.S. cities.
Another analysis in 14 cities found increasing hospitalizations for cardio-vascular and lung diseases linked to higher levels of particle pollution.
In January, the American Lung Assn. asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency overstepped it authority with the 1997 air pollution rules.
That ruling was hailed as a victory by the American Trucking Assns. and other industry groups that filed suit against EPA. Compliance, they said, would cost trucking $45 billion a year. The Supreme Court has not yet indicated whether it will hear the Lung Assn.'s appeal.
"This research vindicates EPA," said Ernest P. Franck, president of the Lung Assn. "It should silence the big polluters and other critics who have asserted - falsely - that EPA relied on 'junk science' to set the health standards."
Glenn Keller, president of the Engine Manufacturers Assn., was not familiar with this particular study. However, he said, "There's some real good science on going right now. I don't know if I'd put it into context the way Lung Assn. did, but certainly there is some connection."
Keller said the problem is, research is still being done about how particulates work in combination with other pollutants. Another area of research, he says, is whether there is a "threshold effect," where the effects of particulates below a certain threshold are minimal, but above that limit are harmful. "If we can quantify what that threshold is, does it match up with what EPA is setting?" he asks. "If we pick the wrong number, too lenient or too strict, there will be an impact, and we have to be cautious in that we look to the science and not take any one industry or [portion of the] economy or cripple some aspect of our American livelihood."
Keller also emphasized that engine makers "are working very diligently to reduce all the pollution levels out of our tailpipes, notwithstanding any of these rules, regulations and lawsuits, and we're looking for the cooperation of fuel companies to take sulfur out of the fuel."