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Aug. 8: Adams Receives Grant To Study the Impact of Global Climate Change on U.S. Air Quality

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Chriss Swaney
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Carnegie Mellon's Peter Adams Receives EPA Grant
To Study Impact of Global Climate Change on U.S. Air Quality

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University's Peter J. Adams has been awarded a $900,000 research grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study how global climate change and international pollution impact U.S. air quality. Spyros Pandis, a chemical engineering research professor, is a co-investigator on the grant.

Peter AdamsAdams, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon, said he will build integrated models over the next three years that simulate air pollution from local to global scales. This work will build upon earlier research done by Adams and Pandis. Initially, the engineering researchers combined a global climate model, a global atmospheric chemistry model, a regional meteorological model and a regional atmospheric chemistry model to determine how future climate change will affect air pollution in different parts of the U.S.

"Our new EPA-funded work will help us study and track dangerous neurotoxins like atmospheric mercury, and improve our understanding of the potentially more harmful particulate matter from sources such as cars, trucks and coal-burning power plants," said Adams, a member of Carnegie Mellon's Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies (CAPS). 

Particulate matter poses a serious health problem. Fifty thousand Americans are thought to die prematurely each year due to particle exposure and almost 70 million Americans live in areas that violate the federal standard. That standard was strengthened in September after scientists, armed with years of studies showing that these particles can damage the lungs and heart, advised the EPA that the previous daily standard of 65 micrograms per cubic meter of air was too loose.

Adams will also base his particulate matter models on findings by Carnegie Mellon CAPS researchers Allen L. Robinson and Neil M. Donahue, who recently published a paper in Science that revolutionized our understanding of major sources of organic particulate matter.

A fleet of new coal-powered plants is supposed to be coming over the horizon. As recently as May, U.S. power companies announced intentions to build as many as 150 new generating plants fueled by coal, adding to the 645 units that produce about half the nation's electricity. But these coal-fired electric plants collectively account for 67 percent of all the sulfur dioxide emissions in the U.S., which is a major precursor of particulate matter. The nation's top 50 coal-fired power plants averaged 21.1 pounds of sulfur dioxide per megawatt-hour, compared to only one pound per megawatt hour for plants equipped with state-of-the art scrubbers.

"Our previous research showed that climate change will make photochemical smog pollution worse. This means we need to cut pollution emissions more than if there were no climate change. In our future research, we will see if the same is true for particulate matter and mercury," Adams said.

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