Framework for assessing causality of air pollution-related health effects for reviews of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards

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Abstract

To inform regulatory decisions on the risk due to exposure to ambient air pollution, consistent and transparent communication of the scientific evidence is essential. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) develops the Integrated Science Assessment (ISA), which contains evaluations of the policy-relevant science on the effects of criteria air pollutants and conveys critical science judgments to inform decisions on the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. This article discusses the approach and causal framework used in the ISAs to evaluate and integrate various lines of scientific evidence and draw conclusions about the causal nature of air pollution-induced health effects. The framework has been applied to diverse pollutants and cancer and noncancer effects. To demonstrate its flexibility, we provide examples of causality judgments on relationships between health effects and pollutant exposures, drawing from recent ISAs for ozone, lead, carbon monoxide, and oxides of nitrogen. U.S. EPA's causal framework has increased transparency by establishing a structured process for evaluating and integrating various lines of evidence and uniform approach for determining causality. The framework brings consistency and specificity to the conclusions in the ISA, and the flexibility of the framework makes it relevant for evaluations of evidence across media and health effects.

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