Background: Environmental studies have consistently shown an association between air pollution and exacerbations of illness in people with respiratory diseases such as Asthma (Zhengmin, 2010). Asthma, a chronic disorder in over 160 million people causing one death every twenty seconds, involves the interaction of airflow obstruction, bronchial hyper-responsiveness, and inflammation (WHO, 2005). The global economic burden of asthma exceeds that of tuberculosis and HIV combined. Most medical practitioners currently attribute any degradation in lung health to pathophysiological factors, and routinely suggest steroids and other inhaler treatments to alleviate respiratory disorders. No model currently quantifies the degradation in the PEF rate based on airborne pollutants. Remediation efforts are therefore untargeted.
Goal: The goal of my project is to uniquely quantify the effect of environmental pollutants on the lung function as measured by the Peak Expiratory Flow (PEF) rate.
Hypothesis, Experimentation and Model: I hypothesized that the PEF rate of asthmatic subjects varies inversely with the concentration level of four pollutants (independent variables) including Airborne Particulate Matter (PM10), Carbon dioxide (CO2), Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOC). The dependent variable, measured in l/min, is the PEF rate of asthmatic subjects.
In Phase 1, which I started in May 2010, I recruited 103 adult subjects to participate in this study, including 40 control non-asthmatic and 63 asthmatic subjects. I utilized air monitors to record over 4 million air quality readings in each subject's household and work environments. Each subject recorded his or her PEF rate for a period of seven days utilizing standard medical techniques. My methods are scientific and HIPPA compliant.
In Phase 2, I developed a novel mathematical model and aninteractive online application that quantifies how much of a subject's PEF degradation is caused by the levels of PM10 and TVOC in each subject's environment.
There is a saying amongst environmental professionals: "Genetics loads the gun and environmental pollutants pull the trigger."
Airborne triggers cause one death every 20 seconds! This project is my sincere hope to increase awareness amongst all stakeholders in order to eliminate the environmental "triggers" that take these innocent lives.
I am excited about continuing to research respiratory disorders both from a systems and multi-disciplinary perspective. Possible ideas for future research include engineering a smart thermostat that monitors air quality real-time and studying the effect of TVOC on the endothilial lining of our lungs.
I was also intrigued to learn through background research that there could be some linkage between TVOC and cancer. I have written a letter to the Chairman of the EPA and the U.S. President asking them to allow me to present my findings to them. Perhaps after some due diligence policy makers will agree that our Clean Air Act needs to be amended as it currently does not list TVOC as a criteria pollutant.
Summary Video of my Research
Air Pollution Impacts Lung Health of Asthma Patients