SCEHSC Center members involved in KPCC Story: More than 150 LA child care centers dangerously close to freeways

Local KPCC reporter, Deepa Fernandez (Early Childhood Development Correspondent) approached SCEHSC staff and researchers last year to inquire about air pollution monitoring and health effects of near roadway air pollution on children. Today her feature story about childcare centers in Los Angeles in close proximity to freeways was published.We are proud to not only have our center members quoted in the story, but community partners as well.

Deepa Fernandez, KPCC

Culver City writer Tracey Moore loved everything about her daughter’s daycare. It was close to her family’s house, included some Spanish immersion, and her young child was smitten with the staff.

So when the owner informed parents she was moving, there was unanimous consensus among families that they would all follow her.

But when Moore saw the new daycare location, she was devastated: “It’s a side street that dead ends right at the freeway,” she recalled, “and the preschool is about a stone’s throw [away].”

Every day, more than 300,000 cars and trucks rumble through that section of the 405, according to CalTrans data for 2014 – making it one of the most highly-trafficked spots in Los Angeles. Moore didn’t know that specific statistic, but she could see the traffic and was concerned about what she called the “invisible ribbon of particles” drifting off the freeway from cars and trucks directly into the yard of the day care. Read more here

Map: Where child care facilities are next to highways

Community-Scientist Event: Mothers, Babies and the Environment

On Monday March 7, the USC Environmental Health Community Outreach Program hosted a luncheon event at the East Los Angeles Community Service Center. The aim of the event was to foster a dialogue between scientists researching impact of pollution and stress on maternal and child health with local organizations working on the ground to improve health and well-being of mothers and their families.

Community members, staff members from local community based organizations, as well as staff from local elected officials offices all participated. USC scientists who are part of the MADRES research project, presented information about the critical role of chemicals on the health of mothers and young children, the importance of research studies and the key role of the environment in health disparities.  The group heard presentations from Legacy LA, First 5 Los Angeles Best Start Community Partnership, Boyle Heights Beat, From Lot to Spot, Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA, and Clinica Romero. Also contributing to the discussion on behalf of local communities were representatives from the Boyle Heights Stakeholders Association, Mothers of East LA, Coalition for Clean Air, staff members representing Supervisor Hilda Solis’ and Congressman Xavier Becerra’s office, LAUSD, and local community organizer Martha Jimenez.

Presentations along with topic based roundtable discussions, sparked ideas and feedback about how to increase awareness in local communities and provide information. In general, to raise awareness about many of the topics discussed at the lunch event, participants suggested communication dissemination to include newspaper ads, radio announcements, local reports from the youth at Boyle Heights Beat to Spanish language media. USC also listened closely to community members as they suggested ideas of places and times in the community where people are already gathered as ideal to present important and timely health information that can be directly applied in their daily lives.

Based on the feedback and ideas heard at the event, the Community Outreach team will move forward to create new resources around the theme of “Women’s Wellness” focused on toxic exposures in the everyday environment, particularly in homes and products used in homes. From web and print content on various topics, to doing workshops about toxic products, the team will be seeking further input and collaboration from community groups in the coming months to refine their work to make it a helpful resource to the communities who are interested. Ongoing work of the Community Outreach team which includes community based air pollution monitoring and new areas of other toxic exposure monitoring will continue as groups express interest in these collaborations. The team, who has recently also started to be more involved in the planning and development of green spaces around Los Angeles, will continue to develop resources around this topic as well as see how to be a resource in environmental justice communities.

Air Pollution Has Similar Adverse Effects as Obesity on Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

Air Pollution Adversely Effects Insulin Sensitivity

PRESS: Reuters, Endocrine Today, Everyday Diabetes, Newsmax, Environment Today

It is a well-established fact that obese people are more likely to develop diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and be at increased risk for stroke. In a recent study published in Diabetes Care journal, USC researchers in the USC Keck School of Medicine found that fine particulate matter  that mostly comes from vehicles exhaust in Los Angeles has a similar significant effect as obesity on the risk of type 2 diabetes. “The most important clinical meaning of our results is that the impact of PM2.5 on Type 2 Diabetes related traits was comparable to the influence of obesity on these traits,” said the study’s lead author, postdoctoral research associate Zhanghua Chen.

With years of studying the role that air pollution plays in health outcomes, researchers at the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center (SCEHSC) have equipped themselves to study how air pollution affects an individual’s risk for acquiring type 2 diabetes at some point in their lifetime.

In a study with Mexican American adults, who are at high risk of type 2 diabetes, Dr. Frank D. Gilliland, director of the SCEHSC, Chen and colleagues in the Keck School of Medicine at USC looked at how exposures to specific air pollutants and heavy traffic near their homes during various time periods from several days to a year impacted the risk of type 2 diabetes among this high risk group of Mexican-Americans.

The research team found that participants exposed to higher short-term average PM2.5 concentrations were more insulin resistant, had lower HDL to LDL (good to bad cholesterol) ratios and higher fasting glucose and insulin. Higher annual average exposure to PM2.5 also adversely affect fasting glucose, insulin resistance and blood lipids.  Additionally, obese people are more susceptible to the negative effects of short-term PM2.5 on insulin sensitivity.

“The uniqueness of this study paired air pollution measures with detailed and more direct measurements of insulin sensitivity and beta-cell function using a frequently sampled intravenous glucose tolerance test,” said Chen. “The Mexican American population is known for their high risk for obesity and, but they were less studied for the relationship between air pollution and type 2 diabetes.”

“Our significant findings about the detrimental impact of air pollution exposures on increased risk of type 2 diabetes indicate that stricter control of air pollution is needed to early prevent type 2 diabetes. Results from this study can provide policy makers with the information needed to formulate policy and regulation to protect public health,” said Chen.

Zhanghua Chen, Muhammad T. Salam, Claudia Toledo-Corral, Richard M. Watanabe, Anny H. Xiang, Thomas A. Buchanan, Rima Habre, Theresa M. Bastain, Fred Lurmann, John P. Wilson, Enrique Trigo, and Frank D. Gilliland. Ambient Air Pollutants Have Adverse Effects on Insulin and Glucose Homeostasis in Mexican Americans, Diabetes Care published ahead of print February 11, 2016, doi:10.2337/dc15-1795

Funding. This work was supported by National Institutes of Health grants DK-061628, M01-RR-0043, and UL1-TR000130, American Diabetes Association Research Award Clinical Research grant 7-09-CT-09, the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (grant 5P30ES007048), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences grant 5P01ES011627, and the Hastings Foundation.

Children’s Health Study receives top honors for paper in 2015 from NEJM and NIEHS

In March 2015, as part of the ongoing research of the Southern California Children’s Health Study, a paper documenting improvement in children’s lung function as a direct result of decline in pollutant levels (nitrogen dioxide and fine particles) across Southern California was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), one of the funders of the research, recognized the paper as one of the top 25 papers of 2015.

The New England Journal of Medicine recognized the paper as one of the top 12 papers that was published by the journal in 2015.

The direct link to a summary of the article on the NEJM website can be found here.
More: press release and a summary of press coverage of the article.

W. James Gauderman, Ph.D., Robert Urman, M.S., Edward Avol, M.S., Kiros Berhane, Ph.D., Rob McConnell, M.D., Edward Rappaport, M.S., Roger Chang, Ph.D., Fred Lurmann, M.S., and Frank Gilliland, M.D., Ph.D. Association of Improved Air Quality with Lung Development in Children.
N Engl J Med 2015; 372:905-913March 5, 2015 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1414123

USC Establishes Research Center to Untangle Causes of Childhood Obesity in Low-Income, Urban Minority Populations

Exposure to pollution and social stresses suspected to be among the key factors

USC has been awarded a federally funded research center to explore why childhood obesity affects some populations more than others.

The Maternal and Developmental Risks from Environmental and Social Stressors (MADRES) Center will study pregnant women and their infants over time in low-income, urban minority communities in Los Angeles that have both high obesity rates and wide-ranging exposure to environmental pollutants.

Researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of USC’s Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center, Center for Obesity Research Center, and Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute will collaborate on the initiative.

“One of the most striking concerns about the obesity epidemic is the ethnic disparity among women and children,” said Carrie Breton, assistant professor at Keck Medicine of USC and co-principal investigator of the center, which will try to determine how environmental factors influence childhood obesity. “Rates of childhood obesity, pregnancy-related obesity and their associated health consequences are disproportionately high in Hispanic women and children.”

For example, in Boyle Heights — home to one of the largest Hispanic/Mexican populations in the United States — 50 percent of teens are overweight or obese, compared to 34 percent in Los Angeles County and 29 percent statewide. Located at the confluence of Interstates 5 and 10, the 101 Freeway and State Route 60, Boyle Heights also faces some of the worst pollution in the county and has a disproportionately high poverty rate (33 percent).

“Childhood obesity is one of the critical issues of our time, threatening the health of an entire generation of children,” said Frank Gilliland, professor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and co-principal investigator. “Over-nutrition and sedentary lifestyle clearly play roles, but environmental determinants of obesity are also likely to be important and modifiable causes.”

The MADRES Center will recruit 750 mother-infant pairs from low-income urban hospitals in Los Angeles over the course of three years to investigate the problem from two angles:
• Project 1 will explore how environmental factors relate to child weight at birth and at 12 months of age.
• Project 2 will examine the effects of pre- and postpartum environmental exposures as well as psychological stress and behavioral risk factors that affect the mother’s gestational weight gain and postpartum weight retention.

Smartphone apps will allow the team to collect real-time information about stressors and lifestyle behaviors during the daily lives of pregnant and new mothers.

Two teams will split up the research — one will work directly with mothers and infants; another will measure and map pollution.

The community outreach team will develop workshops with local partners, send out new research results and create materials for the mothers and families in environmental health resource centers.

Funding for the MADRES Center comes from the National Institutes of Health, including the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, grant 1P50ES026086-01.

More information about the MADRES Center is available at:

Contact: Robert Perkins at (213) 740-9226 or

Near-Roadway Air Pollution and Coronary Heart Disease Study Published

Research encourages policymakers to consider effects of near-roadway air pollution when planning high-density housing near public transportation, say Keck School of Medicine of USC investigators

Heart disease from exposure to pollution near roads and freeways is often overlooked

LOS ANGELES — Policymakers and developers planning high-density housing near public transit with the goal of reducing automobile use and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming need a clearer understanding of the health risks from air pollution that may be created if that housing is also built near busy roads and freeways, according to new research by Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) scientists.

Click here for link to the study.

The study is one of the first to focus on the burden of heart disease that can result from residential exposures near major roadways in a large urban area. According to the researchers, the effects of the near-roadway component of air pollution is generally underappreciated and not included in estimates of air pollution-related heart disease. These near-roadway exposures are largely unregulated.

The study estimated the current impact of near-roadway pollution and of likely future exposure under proposed urban redevelopment plans for Southern California in response to landmark California legislation passed in 2008 to reduce greenhouse gases by 2035. Senate Bill 375, the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, sets regional targets to decrease vehicle traffic, in part by promoting urban redevelopment with multifamily homes in corridors with good public transportation. The anticipated result is less reliance on private automobiles, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and corresponding reduced levels of air pollution hazardous to health.

“The health benefits of these reduced emissions are partially offset by increased exposure to high concentrations of near-roadway pollutants among a larger population living next to major traffic corridors,” said Rob McConnell, professor of preventive medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC and corresponding author.

“The response to SB 375 is a historic opportunity to optimize the health co-benefits of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. An appreciation of the health risks of near-roadway pollution would strengthen the argument for proposals to zone buffer areas between busy roadways and new high-density housing and to develop a zero-emission or near-zero-emission vehicle fleet.”

“Near-roadway pollutants are rapidly diluted over short distances,” said Rakesh Ghosh, first author and research associate, Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC. “Residential exposure reduces markedly within a few hundred feet of even the busiest roadways.”

The investigators noted that the population is aging and that older persons are more vulnerable to the effects of pollution. Therefore, the number of heart attacks caused by air pollution is likely to increase over the next two decades even though pollution is decreasing.

Other researchers contributing to the study include Frederick Lurmann and Bryan Penfold (Sonoma Technology), Nino Kunzli and Laura Perez (University of Basel and Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland), Sylvia Brandt (University of Massachusetts), John Wilson (Spatial Sciences Institute, USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences), and Meredith Milet (California Department of Public Health).

The research, “Near roadway air pollution and coronary heart disease: Burden of disease and potential impact of a greenhouse gas reduction strategy in Southern California” was published July 7 in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The research was funded by National Institutes of Health grants P01ES022845, P01ES011627, P30ES007048, R01ES016535, U.S. EPA grant RD83544101, and The Hastings Foundation.

Article cited:
Ghosh, R., Lurmann, F., Perez, L., Penfold, B, Brandt, S., Wilson, J., Milet, M., Kunzli, N & McConnell, R. (2015). Near roadway air pollution and coronary heart disease: Burden of disease and potential impact of a greenhouse gas reduction strategy in Southern California. Environmental Health Perspectives Published online July 7, 2015; doi: 10.1289/ehp.1408865

About Keck Medicine of USC

Keck Medicine of USC is the University of Southern California’s medical enterprise, one of only two university-based medical systems in the Los Angeles area. Encompassing academic, research and clinical excellence, the medical system attracts internationally renowned experts who teach and practice at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, the region’s first medical school; includes the renowned USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of the first comprehensive cancer centers established by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States; has a medical faculty practice, the USC Care Medical Group; operates the Keck Medical Center of USC, which includes two acute care hospitals: 401-licensed bed Keck Hospital of USC and 60-licensed bed USC Norris Cancer Hospital; and owns USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, a 158-licensed bed community hospital. It also includes more than 40 outpatient facilities, some at affiliated hospitals, in Los Angeles, Orange, Kern, Tulare and Ventura counties.U.S. News & World Report ranked Keck Medical Center of USC among the Top 10 in ophthalmology and among the Top 25 hospitals in the United States for urology and cancer care.

For more information, go to

Contact: Robert Perkins at (213) 740-9226 or

Southern California Children’s Health Study Forum

The Southern California Children’s Health Study Forum: “Healthier kids and the future of cleaner air” was a chance for researchers to talk about the latest information about air pollution in the Los Angeles basin, and what this means for children’s health.  Community leaders discussed their work to reduce emissions from freeway pollution and the ports in the future.

Thank you to all the speakers and participants at the May 18, 2015 event in Long Beach, CA; nearly 100 residents and members of nonprofit organizations attended.

The event featured panelists Frank Gilliland, Rob McConnell, Ed Avol, and Jim Gauderman of USC, mark! Lopez, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Elisa Nicholas, Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma, and moderator Andrea Hricko, USC.  Panelists discussed recent research, including studies on overall levels of air pollution and improving children’s lung function, studies linking air pollution exposure to higher weight and obesity, and the health costs of air pollution to families.  Levels of ultrafine particles, the smallest particles that can get deep into the lungs, are still too high near roadways and downwind of LAX Airport.

Residents were able to talk with USC scientists about their environmental health concerns, and discuss how to use research results in the future.  Participants brought up many important issues, and talked about ways in which the community and researchers can partner together.

“Building partnerships and opportunities for youth to go on to these career paths is important.”
– East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quoted the Children’s Health Study.”
– Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma

“The work you’re doing here in LA is also helping people 1500 miles away.”
– Diesel Health Project, Kansas City

Panel of speakers at the forum.

Over 100 people attended.

Organized by the Trade, Health, and Environment Impact Project, and sponsored by the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center, the Southern California Children’s Health Sciences Center, Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach, and The Kresge Foundation.