Airborne Particulate Matter Health Effects Airborne Particulate Matter Health Effects
FY 2001 Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program

Opening Date: August 4, 2000
Closing Date: January 17, 2001

NRC PM Research Recommendations
Research Priorities
Standard Instructions for Submitting an Application


In 1996, EPA's Particulate Matter (PM) Criteria Document, which was peer reviewed by the Agency's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), concluded that there was increasing scientific confidence, based on numerous epidemiological studies, that PM is associated with increased morbidity and mortality, and that these associations occurred at concentrations below the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for PM in effect at that time. In July 1997, in addition to retaining PM10 NAAQS, EPA published new NAAQS for PM smaller than 2.5 micrometers (m) in diameter, called PM2.5, to provide increased protection against a wide range of PM-related health effects. In establishing these standards, both EPA and CASAC agreed on the importance of expanding research programs to address the key issues raised in the PM criteria and standards review.

In fiscal year (FY) 1998 Congress urged EPA to establish as many as five university-based research centers focused on PM and provided additional funding to expand PM research efforts. In addition, Congress asked EPA to arrange for an independent study by the National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council (NRC) to develop priorities for a comprehensive PM research plan, develop a near- and long-term PM research program, and monitor research progress over the next five years. In March, 1998, the NRC released its first report entitled Research Priorities for Airborne Particulate Matter: 1. Immediate Priorities and Long-Range Research Portfolio. In August, 1999, the NRC released its second report entitled Research Priorities for Airborne Particulate Matter: II. Evaluating Research Progress and Updating the Portfolio. The recommendations from these NRC reports were used as a major source of guidance for the development of this RFA. The NRC recommendations for PM research topics are shown below. The NRC reports can be obtained by consulting on the Internet.

National Research Council PM Research Portfolio Recommendations (NRC, 1999)

NRC Research Topic

1. Outdoor measures versus actual human exposures
2. Exposures of susceptible subpopulations to toxic particulate-matter components
3. Characterization of emissions sources
4. Air-quality-model development and testing
5. Assessment of hazardous particulate-matter components
6. Dosimetry: deposition and fate of particles in the respiratory tract
7. Combined effects of particulate-matter and gaseous copollutants
8. Susceptible subpopulations
9. Mechanisms of injury
10. Analysis and measurement

In FY 1999 Congress again provided additional funding to expand PM research efforts and in FY 2000 EPA's PM research program has continued at this expanded level. ORD is aligning the expanded PM research program to respond to the recommendations of the NRC. Based on recommendations from the NRC report and earlier strategic assessments, ORD is developing and implementing an integrated research program for PM which includes in-house studies, interagency research, PM Research Centers, and RFAs through which scientists may compete for investigator-initiated grant awards.

Through a merit-based RFA competition, the EPA in 1999 selected five university-based PM Research Centers. These Centers are located at Harvard University, University of Washington in Seattle, University of Rochester, University of California at Los Angeles and New York University for program abstracts). The selection of these PM Research Centers was based on their construction of well-defined and integrated programs that address PM research needs in the areas of exposure, dosimetry and extrapolation modeling, toxicology, and epidemiology. As the EPA continues to develop and implement an integrated research portfolio, the PM Research Centers are anticipated to address some, but not all, research needs. Additional research focused on the topics identified in this RFA is needed at this time to address the research portfolio recommended by the NRC.

Through the use of EPA-provided funding, State and local agencies are establishing an extensive and multi-level network of ambient air monitoring sites including PM mass monitoring (including regulatory gravimetric monitors), continuous mass monitoring, and chemical speciation sampling and analyses. The EPA is working with State and local agencies to design these networks to provide maximum support for assessing relevant health effects, exposure assessment, atmospheric modeling, and regulatory requirements, including comparisons with the NAAQS. The EPA, in January 2000, initiated a "Super Sites" program to supplement the data collected by these State and local agency-operated networks. Descriptions of the Super Sites, including program abstracts and tables identifying monitoring to be conducted including approaches and timelines. The Super Sites program will provide additional information on the chemical and physical properties of particles that will be used by both the research and regulatory communities.

Data collected through these monitoring networks provide a valuable opportunity for the research community, including research funded through this RFA. Researchers responding to this RFA are encouraged to leverage these data collection activities, and other PM monitoring programs, where appropriate.


The NRC reports recommended a portfolio of activities targeted to address the highest priority PM research needs. To develop an optimal portfolio, the Agency has evaluated the NRC research priorities, considered the activities already underway to address priority needs (a PM-related research inventory is available at, and determined the appropriate areas of focus for this RFA. Through this RFA, the Agency is soliciting proposals to optimize the EPA research portfolio by supporting research in areas that are less well covered relative to the NRC research recommendations. While research in all of the NRC topic areas has merit, research on the combined effects of PM and copollutants on health, and on toxicity mechanisms, is of highest priority. Described below are priority research topics for this solicitation. Applicants are encouraged to consult the NRC reports for additional elaboration of these priority research topics.

Combined Effects of PM and Gaseous Copollutants

Particulate matter in ambient air exists in a mixture that includes co-pollutants such as ozone, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and hazardous air pollutants. The composition and characteristics of the PM and surrounding atmosphere, both in the ambient air and in micro-environments affecting personal exposure, change over space and time as a function of temperature, moisture content, and source contributions, among other factors. A particular need exists with respect to understanding the effects of long-term exposures of PM and copollutants on health. In addition, relatively little toxicological and clinical research is now underway to understand the combined effects of PM and gaseous copollutants. Epidemiological and exposure studies generally consider the influence or presence of some copollutants, though monitoring data heretofore have been scarce to support such evaluations. Thus, these are areas of significant need. With the advanced ambient measurements anticipated through the EPA and state/local agency monitoring efforts opportunities exist to better understand the role of ambient PM and copollutants in producing effects. The objective of this research is to disentangle the effects of particulate matter from the effects of other pollutants and to better understand the effects of exposure to PM in the presence of other pollutants. Research is needed:

  • ?To understand the potential for PM deposition, target tissue dose, and effects on the lung and related systems in response to PM independently and in combination with other pollutants. This includes a need to understand the health effects that may be associated with certain particle-bound transformation products, including semi-volatile substances;

  • ?To understand the role of PM independently and in combination with other pollutants in epidemiological findings associating PM exposures with health outcomes. Novel approaches to evaluate existing and new health and exposure-related data sets, and to better understand the role of measurement and other uncertainties in assessing associations, are encouraged. 
Mechanisms of Injury 

Elucidation of the mechanisms by which PM might produce toxicity consistent with observed epidemiological findings of increased illness and mortality is important to support more confident risk management decisions. Substantial efforts are now underway at EPA and elsewhere to explore potential cardiopulmonary mechanisms of PM toxicity, including development of cardiopulmonary disease models. However, insufficient research is underway to explore alternative hypotheses. Research is especially encouraged to develop and evaluate novel hypotheses on the mechanistic basis of PM toxicity from the molecular through physiologic levels. Research is especially needed to explore neurologic, systemic, immunologic, and direct cardiac responses to PM. Development of linkages between ambient, emission, and surrogate PM characteristics also are needed to help relate mechanistic results to epidemiological findings. The objective of this research is to understand the underlying mechanisms of toxicity that can explain the epidemiological findings of adverse effects associated with exposure to ambient PM. Research is needed: 

  • ?To identify the molecular and physiological mechanisms by which ambient air PM mediates adverse health effects;

  • ?To identify non-pulmonary effects of PM such as cardiac, neurologic, immunologic, etc., and to understand the mechanisms associated with these effects; 

  • ?To identify potential health conditions, such as conditions related to cardiac or immune system status, that would enhance susceptibility to adverse PM health effects and the biological mechanisms by which host susceptibility factors influence the dose response relationship. The development of new and novel approaches, such as transgenic models, is encouraged, where appropriate. 

Funding: It is anticipated that a total of approximately $5 million, including direct and indirect costs, will be awarded in FY 2001, depending on the availability of funds. Proposals may request funding for projects with a total cost up to $300,000/year with a duration of up to 3 years. 


Academic and not-for-profit institutions located in the U.S., and state or local governments, are eligible under all existing authorizations. Profit-making firms are not eligible to receive grants from EPA under this program. Federal agencies and national laboratories funded by federal agencies (Federally-funded Research and Development Centers, FFRDCs) may not apply.

Federal employees are not eligible to serve in a principal leadership role on a grant. FFRDC employees may cooperate or collaborate with eligible applicants within the limits imposed by applicable legislation and regulations. They may participate in planning, conducting, and analyzing the research directed by the principal investigator, but may not direct projects on behalf of the applicant organization or principal investigator. The principal investigator's institution may provide funds through its grant from EPA to a FFRDC for research personnel, supplies, equipment, and other expenses directly related to the research. However, salaries for permanent FFRDC employees may not be provided through this mechanism. 

Federal employees may not receive salaries or in other ways augment their agency's appropriations through grants made by this program. However, federal employees may interact with grantees so long as their involvement is not essential to achieving the basic goals of the grant.1 The principal investigator's institution may also enter into an agreement with a federal agency to purchase or utilize unique supplies or services unavailable in the private sector. Examples are purchase of satellite data, census data tapes, chemical reference standards, analyses, or use of instrumentation or other facilities not available elsewhere, etc. A written justification for federal involvement must be included in the application, along with an assurance from the federal agency involved which commits it to supply the specified service.

1EPA encourages interaction between its own laboratory scientists and grant principal investigators for the sole purpose of exchanging information in research areas of common interest that may add value to their respective research activities. However, this interaction must be incidental to achieving the goals of the research under a grant. Interaction that is "incidental" is not reflected in a research proposal and involves no resource commitments.

Potential applicants who are uncertain of their eligibility should contact Dr. Robert E. Menzer in NCER, phone (202) 564-6849, EMail:

Standard Instructions for Submitting an Application

A set of special instructions on how applicants should apply for a STAR grant is found on the NCER web site. Standard Instructions for Submitting a STAR Application and the necessary forms for an application will be found on this web site.

Sorting Codes

The need for a sorting code to be used in the application and for mailing is described in the Standard Instructions for Submitting a STAR Application. The sorting code for applications submitted in response to this solicitation is

2001 STAR-B1

The deadline for receipt of applications by NCER is no later than 4:00 p.m. ET, January 17, 2001.


Further information, if needed, may be obtained from the EPA official indicated below. E-mail inquiries are preferred.

Deran Pashayan 202-564-6913

Last Updated: August 3, 2000