University of Connecticut Health professor Douglas Brugge is studying the effects of in-home air filtration on personal health after receiving a $2.5 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Brugge is the principle investigator in this grant-aided study of whether in-home air filtration systems installed in homes located close to highways reduce exposure to ultra-fine particles in the air.
A UConn Today article defines ultra-fine air particles as nano-sized molecules that humans breathe in every day, which can then have negative effects after entering lungs or leaching into the bloodstream. The most significant sources of ultra-fines are commonly found to be automobiles and airplanes.
“We are seeking to show whether installing portable air filters in homes next to a highway can both reduce exposure to pollution arising from the traffic and result in improvements in biomarkers, including blood pressure, that are predictive of cardiovascular risk,” Brugge said.
Brugge, who holds a PhD from Harvard University in cellular and developmental biology and an MS in industrial hygiene from the Harvard School of Public Health, said he has been studying traffic-related air pollution and ultra-fine particles from motor vehicles for over a decade. He has published over 50 academic papers on the topic and has conducted many pilot studies prior to starting his grant research in early September 2019.
“The risk of ultra-fine particles from traffic is not well known to public policy makers,” Brugge said. “These particles are not regulated despite growing evidence that they are toxic and cause health problems. One of my goals is to raise awareness of this issue.”
He began work on this research in response to concerns from a community partner which wanted help in lowering the risks on personal health in neighborhoods near highway air pollution.
“This work began as a request from one of our community partners, the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership, for technical assistance regarding risks from the highway running through their neighborhoods,” Brugge said. “From that starting point it has grown into a series of research and implementation projects, including the newest grant.”
Through recent research leading up to the grant, Brugge and a team of researchers were able to show a health benefit of reducing traffic pollution levels for the very first time.
“We have found that we could reduce traffic pollution levels, including ultra-fine particles, in homes, but that it was harder to show that doing so had a benefit on health,” Brugge said. “A very recent study that we hope to publish soon overcame the technical difficulties and for us, for the first time, showed a health benefit.”
Professor Brugge said that recruiting study participants and retaining them for an entire intervention period can be difficult, but he is fortunate enough to work with good community partners who have helped with this.
“I still anticipate that it will take hard work to succeed,” Brugge said.
After transferring here from Tufts University in Boston last spring, he looks to continue to research this topic now in Hartford.
“I am joining a UConn center grant proposal currently that, if funded — always a long shot — would start to do this,” Brugge said of continuing his work in the Hartford area.
Amanda Kilyk is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.