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Interim Review of the Particulate Matter (PM) Research Centers of the USEPA: An SAB Report

A review of the PM Research Centers Interim Review Panel of the Executive Committee of the USEPA Science Advisory Board (SAB)

The following information and excerpts are from an EPA Science Advisory Board draft document that has been released to the public and is available on EPA's web site at:

Interim Review of the Particulate Matter (PM) Research Centers of the USEPA: An SAB Report (PDF) (38 pp, 239 K, about PDF)

SAB Conclusions

The SAB concluded that the PM Centers Program has both a) produced benefits beyond those normally found in individual investigator-initiated grants and b) is likely to continue to provide such benefits through to the end of its current funding cycle. Overall, the Panel found that the program merits continuation beyond FY04 -- through a new fully-competitive round of applications -- as one part of a diverse PM research portfolio at the Agency.

Conclusions:

  1. The PM Centers Program has both a) produced benefits beyond those normally found in individual investigator-initiated grants and b) is likely to continue to provide such benefits through to the end of its current funding cycle. Overall, the Panel found that the program merits continuation beyond FY04 -- through a new fully- competitive round of applications -- as one part of a diverse PM research portfolio at the Agency.
  2. The Panel identified several specific advantages that the Centers approach offers over other traditional research mechanisms, including enhanced flexibility and adaptability leading to improved timeliness, ability to conduct higher-risk pilot and validation efforts, study designs enhanced by intra-center multi-disciplinary integration, and improved leveraging of the Agency's and the Centers' research resources, among others.
  3. The Panel identified several ways in which a new round of Center grants could be enhanced, either by expanding upon activities already underway or by undertaking new efforts. Importantly, the Panel noted that while there are evident benefits of integration within and across Centers, there are also challenges to insure that the work of the Centers does not become isolated from that of other researchers within the Agency and in the academic community. Key enhancements include the following: a. Continued attention in a new request for applications (RFA) to focusing the Centers'efforts on the most critical PM needs b. The development of an informal, but overarching, mechanism of scientific advice to the program c. Enhanced opportunities for cross-fertilization of ideas with EPA intramural researchers and the broader extramural community d. The provision of systems and resources from the start for inter-center integration efforts.

SAB Summary Letter to the Administrator:
(from draft Interim Review of the Particulate Matter (PM) Research Centers of the USEPA: An SAB Report)

Honorable Christine Todd Whitman
Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue,
NW Washington, DC 20460

Subject: Interim Review of the Particulate Matter (PM) Research Centers: An SAB Report

Dear Governor Whitman:

On February 11 and 12, 2002 the PM Centers Interim Review Panel (Panel) of the US EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) met to review the Agency's PM Research Centers program as a mechanism for generating research results that can inform Agency decision-making. The request to provide this advice was received from the National Center for Environmental Research (NCER) in the Office of Research and Development (ORD).

In 1998 the NCER, under its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program issued a competitive request for applications that resulted in the support of five PM Research Centers for up to five years, with a total of $8M expended in the first year of the program. The Centers were to addressed research needs in the areas of exposure, dosimetry, extrapolation modeling, toxicology, and epidemiology.

As it considers budget formation for FY04 and beyond, NCER needs to decide whether or not to continue with the concept of PM Research Centers beyond the current funding cycle, or whether there might be a better way of generating the research results that will inform Agency decision-making on PM issues. Insufficient time has passed for the Centers B individually or collectively B to have generated a body of research results that could allow a definitive answer to this question based on "outputs", per se. However, considerable experience has been gained with the Centers concept to date that can allow an assessment of the overall utility of this approach, if not of the individual Centers themselves.

This emphasis on the assessment of concept of Centers-based research is reflected in the Charge to the Panel that consists of an overall questions, plus six specific questions:

Overall Question: Is it likely that the PM Centers program will be sufficiently successful to merit continuation in FY 2004 and beyond? In which areas, to what extent, and for what reasons is a PM Centers program beneficial? Where it is not, what improvements can be made?

Specific Questions:

  1. Recognizing the PM Centers program is barely at its halfway point, what important research findings (or promising investigations) have been made that would not have occurred otherwise? What unique aspect(s) of a Centers program enabled such actions to be taken.
  2. To what extent has the direction or focus of research shifted as a result of the multi- disciplinary interactions within the Center (i.e., findings in one department influence researchers in another to change direction or emphasis). To what extent have changes in research direction or emphasis been influenced by Science Advisory Committee reviews, interactions with other PM Centers, or interactions with the broader PM research community? Which factors have been most influential?
  3. How successful are Centers in communicating their findings to the public and specifically, to those who directly use their research? Is it clear that the work has been supported by the PM Centers program?
  4. How, if at all, does a PM research centers program facilitate agreement or consensus on protocols or procedures to enable more direct comparison of results among research institutions or centers?
  5. How, if at all, does a PM research centers program leverage or maximize use of resources through sharing expensive equipment, samples, data, etc.?
  6. How is the program perceived within and outside the research community? Does a research center have greater visibility, and if so, what is the impact?

Detailed answers to these questions are found in the body of the report. The thrust of the answers are capture in the major findings and recommendations:

  1. The PM Centers Program has both a) produced benefits beyond those normally found in individual investigator-initiated grants and b) is likely to continue to provide such benefits through to the end of its current funding cycle. Overall, the Panel found that the program merits continuation beyond FY04 -- through a new fully- competitive round of applications -- as one part of a diverse PM research portfolio at the Agency.
  2. The Panel identified several specific advantages that the Centers approach offers over other traditional research mechanisms, including enhanced flexibility and adaptability leading to improved timeliness, ability to conduct higher-risk pilot and validation efforts, study designs enhanced by intra-center multi-disciplinary integration, and improved leveraging of the Agency's and the Centers' research resources, among others.
  3. The Panel identified several ways in which a new round of Center grants could be enhanced, either by expanding upon activities already underway or by undertaking new efforts. Importantly, the Panel noted that while there are evident benefits of integration within and across Centers, there are also challenges to insure that the work of the Centers does not become isolated from that of other researchers within the Agency and in the academic community. Key enhancements include the following: a. Continued attention in a new request for applications (RFA) to focusing the Centers' efforts on the most critical PM needs b. The development of an informal, but overarching, mechanism of scientific advice to the program c. Enhanced opportunities for cross-fertilization of ideas with EPA intramural researchers and the broader extramural community d. The provision of systems and resources from the start for inter-center integration efforts.

We appreciate the opportunity to review and provide advice on the PM Research Centers program. We want to acknowledge the valuable assistance of the Agency staff who supplied us with information that is a part of the public record of our meeting. The presentations and availability of the Center Directors to answer questions during our public meeting was also quite helpful.

We look forward to your response to this report.

Sincerely,

Dr. William H. Glaze,
Chair Mr. Daniel Greenbaum,
Chair Executive Committee PM Research Centers Interim Review Panel
Science Advisory Board Executive Committee
Science Advisory Board

The EPA's Particulate Matter (PM) Health Effects Research Centers Program
A Mid-Course (2 1/2 year) Report of Status, Progress, and Plans
Prepared for: Public Review by EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) by the PM Centers

http://www.epa.gov/ncer/centers/airpm/sab/report.html

The PM Centers, in their first two and a half years, have initiated research directed at the specific critical issues identified by the NRC Committee, and have also initiated collaborative activities including sponsorship of Scientific Workshops to further research in key areas, such as characterizing respiratory and cardiovascular health effects associated with PM exposures, assessing costs and health benefits of air pollution controls, examining the health impacts of gasoline emissions, and developing methods for apportioning PM sources.

Through their individual and collective activities during the initial years of the PM Centers, considerable progress has been made towards understanding ambient air PM health effects and addressing areas of remaining scientific uncertainty. Future research activities at the PM Centers will include both epidemiological and inhalation studies to enhance our understanding of the health effects of PM, with an increasing focus on long-term effects associated with chronic PM exposures. These goals are consistent with EPA's Multiyear Plan for PM research as defined in its November 2001 presentation to the NRC Oversight Committee.

This report provides a synopsis of the research accomplishments to date, short-term goals (during the two and a half remaining years of Center support) and long-term goals (beyond initial 5 years of Center support) for the PM Health Effects Centers. This report consists of six sections. Sections 1-5 address issues relating to:

  1. Biological Mechanisms;
  2. Acute Effects;
  3. Chronic Effects;
  4. Dosimetry;
  5. Exposure Assessment;

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