Researchers from three politically disparate nations in the Middle East, headed by a professor from the University of Wisconsin, have united to study air quality issues in one of the world’s most historically conflicted regions.

With the academic and scientific guidance of UW professor of civil and environmental engineering James Schauer, scientists from Israel, Palestine and Jordan have worked collaboratively for the past five years to collect data that examines aerosol air pollution in the Middle East.

The motivation for the study was to analyze the region’s air pollution, which fails to comply with the World Health Organization’s standards, with the broader purpose of encouraging cooperation between scientists in this contentious part of the world, Schauer said.

“Symbolically, it’s very meaningful,” Schauer said. “If people can work together to deal with air quality problems, maybe they can work together on other issues.”

Scientists from the three nations set up 11 stations throughout the region to collect air samples that were then chemically analyzed to determine the sources of the aerosols in the Middle East’s atmosphere.

Aerosols are tiny particles released from sources associated with industrialization, like cars, busses and power plants, and also natural sources like trees and plants, according to senior scientist of UW’s Space Science and Engineering Center Edwin Eloranta.

Studies indicate these particles create a variety of adverse health and environmental effects. Environmentally, the aerosols cause haze, reduce visibility and cause acid deterioration. The health-related consequences arise because the particles are so small they escape filtration by the lungs and lead to irritation and disease, Eloranta said.

“Epidemiological research has shown that at high levels of particulate matter, there is an excess of people having cardiovascular disease and also respiratory disease,” Schauer said.

The team of researchers from the Jordanian Society for Sustainable Development, Al-Quds University and the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies published their findings in the Environmental Science and Technology journal this month.

Results of the study show vehicles, farming equipment, vegetation burning, power generation and residential food cooking are the primary sources for aerosol pollution in the Middle East and that these pollution sources vary by region and season.

Researchers will use the findings to determine how to reduce aerosol pollution in developing countries, which currently do not control these pollutants as strictly as the United States does, according to Eloranta.

“The main thing is to bring awareness both to the public and to the regulatory community to conduct additional research studies as needed and to help and motivate and develop strategies for mitigating air pollution,” Schauer said.

David Weisberg, executive director of Friends of the Arava Institute, the fundraising arm of study participant Arava Institute, said the problems researchers examined are not exclusive to any one particular country, but are issues that cross borders and require an international approach.

“We need to be able to bring people together and develop cooperation if we’re going to be able address the concerns facing the region and hopefully along the way we can develop the type of respect and understanding that can lead to things beyond environmental cooperation,” Weisberg said.