OnAir: EPA & Auto Industry Partnership Fills Need for Trusted Science

The Health Effects Institute (HEI) is one of the most respected research organizations in air pollution science.

The Institute was founded in 1980 through an unprecedented partnership between the EPA and the automotive industry. With equal funding from agency and industry (by market share), HEI is in a unique position to provide “high-quality, impartial, and relevant science,” on air pollution health effects, according to their website.

blog_HEI_20100406“HEI began because there was a need for independent science that could be trusted by everyone,” said Dan Greenbaum, HEI’s president.

“What we find is that with industry, EPA, and environmentalists at the table, they are really asking the same scientific questions…even though they may not always want the same answers.”

To maintain objectivity, HEI’s review committees are staffed by participants who are not involved in any advocacy for industry or the environment. The Institute also avoids making regulatory recommendations.
“We don’t make policy here,” Greenbaum said. “We deliver relevant science to the doorsteps of decision-makers so they can do their jobs.”

Greenbaum is known for communicating well across business, environmental, and political realms. He has applied this savvy at the helm of HEI and steered the Institute toward the highest standards of scientific integrity.

“The scientific review process can be a little intense,” Greenbaum admitted, “but it’s so important to have research that is above and beyond reproach.”

Because of the integrity of HEI’s research, their data is often used in important decision-making processes.
In 1997, for example, the EPA reviewed national standards for PM and ozone. To ensure the review incorporated the best-possible information, HEI was asked to reanalyze large datasets from two major air pollution studies.

“They trusted us to treat the data well,” Greenbaum said, “and after tearing it apart and putting it back together again, we confirmed the results and found higher effects of air pollution in people with lower socioeconomic status.”

HEI continues to push the research envelope. Through a new committee, HEI is identifying needed research on the potential health consequences of new fuels and engine technologies.

“We are forecasting a range of new technologies and looking to see whether they could have unintended consequences for public health,” Greenbaum said.

“This is a great example of research to fill gaps in understanding. The key thing we do is listen to what information people need and then do the research to get it.”

For more information, visit: http://www.healtheffects.org/

About the Author: Becky Fried is a science writer with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. Her OnAir posts are a regular “Science Wednesday” feature.