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Clarkson Air Researchers Measure Diesel Fumes - Search For Link To Health Problems In Community

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Past scientific research has linked certain types of respiratory illnesses to air pollution.peacebridge

Now, researchers at Clarkson University are looking at a population located near a major international trucking route to determine whether high levels of diesel emissions released in the air may be linked to increased rates of respiratory illnesses in an adjacent community.

Situated at the inlet to the Niagara River in Buffalo, the Peace Bridge annually carries more than 6.6 million passenger vehicles and almost 1.4 million commercial vehicles between the U.S. and Canada.

In addition to containing benzene, a known carcinogenic, diesel exhaust contains high levels of a fine soot known as Fine Particle Matter that is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, which may have an adverse effect on human health. 

“Published figures indicate that the Peace Bridge’s neighboring population has an unusually high rate of respiratory-related problems, including asthma,” said Clarkson Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Peter Jaques. “Our study is the first step in determining a possible cause-and-effect relationship between diesel fumes and respiratory illness.”

Jaques and his colleague, Andrea Ferro, professor of civil and environmental engineering, are both affiliated with Clarkson’s Center for Air Resources Engineering and Science (CARES), a major U.S. center for air quality research. The two scientists are collaborating on a one-year pilot study funded by the Health Effects Institute to investigate the community’s exposures to potentially harmful air particles related to diesel emissions.

The researchers are measuring particulate matter pollution at fixed sites, up and down wind of the bridge and throughout the community, by using a mobile laboratory equipped with sophisticated instrumentation for collecting and measuring air samples and analyzing data.

Jaques and Ferro are able to measure the various physical and chemical characteristics of air particulate matter on a continuous and semi-continuous basis by using an Engine Exhaust Particle Sizer, a state-of-the-art instrument capable of measuring the size distribution of sub micron particles at a rate of between five and 10 samples per second.

Other equipment includes a black carbon monitor, which, according to Jaques, is an important instrument as the presence of black carbon is an indicator of combustion sources, such as diesel. 

Air monitoring was conducted in July and will be repeated in December to capture the effects of colder temperatures on exposure. The researchers will use traffic data compiled by the Peace Bridge Authority to ensure that their air sampling reflects the profile of bridge traffic both at its heaviest during weekdays and its lightest over weekends.

Ferro also fitted three volunteer residents with personal monitoring devices. The volunteers, who live approximately one half mile northeast of the Peace Bridge Plaza Complex, wore the devices for 72 hours and recorded their activities in and out of the home every half-hour. The monitors collected time-integrated filter samples that will be analyzed in the CARES laboratory for mass, metals and elemental carbon/organic carbon. 

The team is collaborating at the research site with investigators from the Harvard University School of Public Health who are conducting a related study. “We are working together to enhance overall efforts for the mutual benefit of both universities and in the public interest,” Jaques says.

After completion of the one-year study, Jaques and Ferro will apply for additional funds to expand their air quality research in Buffalo. 

“Ultimately,” said Jaques, “our goal is to assist public health officials and policy makers by providing scientific data that can be considered in making decisions that affect air quality, transportation and our communities.”

CARES is a founding member of the New York Environmental Quality Systems Center, a network of 12 research institutions, which received a $15 million grant from New York’s Office of Science, Technology, and Academic Research (NYSTAR) to study air quality. The mission behind CARES is develop ways to better address the health and ecological effects of air pollution.

Clarkson University, located in Potsdam, New York, is an independent university with a reputation for developing innovative leaders in technology-based fields. Its academically rigorous, collaborative culture involves 2,700 undergraduates and 350 graduate students in hands-on team projects, multidisciplinary research, and real-world challenges. Many faculty members achieve international recognition for their scholarship and research, and teaching is a priority at every level. For more information, visit

PHOTO CAPTION:  Clarkson University researchers, Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Peter Jaques (L) and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Andrea Ferro (R) in front of their state-of-the-art mobile laboratory that is equipped with sophisticated instrumentation for collecting and measuring air samples. The two scientists are collaborating on a one-year pilot study to determine if a link exists between high levels of diesel emissions released in the air at the Peace Bridge, an international trucking route in Buffalo, and increased rates of respiratory illnesses in nearby communities.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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