School principal uses research data to protect children’s health in the Imperial Valley

In the southeast corner of CA in a small desert community near the Salton Sea, Mr. Douglas Kline, principal of Grace Smith School in Niland, CA, walked outside and was greeted with the customary gust of dust filled wind blowing through the school’s campus. “All the contaminants in the wind are blown across our playground regularly. From January through April it’s everyday,” said Kline.

Grace Smith School is one of 5 schools in the southern region of the Salton Sea that are participating in the Children’s AIRE Study (Assessing Imperial Valley Respiratory Health & the Environment). The study is a collaborative research project led by USC Division of Environmental Health researchers and local community organization, Comite Civico del Valle. The AIRE study is looking at the effects of the air quality and potential impacts of the shrinking of the Salton Sea on children’s respiratory health.

In September of 2017, after researchers initially surveyed 1st and 2nd students and families about their respiratory health, USC investigators Jill Johnston and Shohreh Farzan met with Kline and reported the survey results. The rate of asthma among the group of students at Grace Smith was 16%, compared to 12.5% across the state of CA.

With asthma rates of his students being higher than normal, Kline decided to share the USC data report with his local Imperial Valley Air Pollution Control District Officer, Matt Dessert. “I saw the data and it supports the fact that asthma is high in the Imperial Valley. I thought it was important to share it with the staff at the Air District,” said Kline.

The research data on children’s respiratory health, including their higher rate of asthma made a significant impression on Mr. Dessert of the APCD. “He asked me if our school would like to have an air filtration system installed in our gymnasium at no cost to us,” said Kline. “Of course I agreed!” The air filtration system for the school’s gymnasium, that is heavily used by students throughout the school day for P.E. classes and for after school programs, will be installed by the end of the year by Cal Energy, a geothermal plant located in Niland. “There will be no out of pocket costs to our school. Between the air district and Cal Energy, the costs of replacing the filters will be covered for the life of the system,” said Kline. He hopes the air filtration system will have a positive impact on the health of his students.

Grace Smith students rely heavily on the gymnasium for their recreational activities as well as school events. Kline reported that students do all recreational activities in the gymnasium with the exception of morning and lunch recess times spent on the playground when there are no bad air days or heat over 110 degrees. “We realize kids love to play outside and we give them those chances,” said Kline. Between the extreme heat and bad air days, the school is able to provide a controlled climate and a variety of recreational activities in the gymnasium for students, teachers and after school programs to function.

Learn more about the USC AIRE Study here.

The USC AIRE Study is funded by NIEHS grant 1R01ES029598-01

Environmental Health Leadership Summit 2018

Researchers, staff, and interns from the USC Environmental Health Centers attended the 9th annual Environmental Health Leadership Summit of 2018 on October 18-19 in Heber, CA, a small community in the southern part of the Imperial Valley. The annual summit is hosted by Comite Civico del Valle, an environmental justice organization based in the Brawley, CA. Every year, CCV hosts various researchers, state and local agencies, community members, and community organizations share the air pollution mitigation efforts of all parties involved. The annual event is an opportunity for folks to share their projects and tackle environmental justice issues that affect communities in the Imperial Valley and beyond.

 Air pollution has become a hot topic in the Imperial Valley due to the frequency of dust storms and bad air quality days that affect this agricultural region. Nearby, the Salton Sea has emerged into the spotlight after years of drought and a decrease in water availability has led to much of the shoreline drying out and leaving behind fine, toxic dust.

This year’s focus was on the various air pollution mitigation efforts made possible by the CA assembly bill, AB617 and the various agencies and stakeholders involved. The first day of the Summit consisted of presentations from the California Air Resources Board and from a couple project leaders regarding the establishment of a CAMN (community air monitoring network) in the Imperial Valley.  Presenters also talked about the assembly bill and the process that went into selecting the 10 communities that have become the focal point of the bill. Through a series of workshops, the agency presented attendees with information on topics such as new air monitoring tools, the community engagement aspect of the bill, and data resources among others.

 Day 2 of the Summit was centered around the air monitoring efforts taking place in the Imperial Valley. In the first panel, various health professionals presented on their research projects taking place in communities surrounding the Salton Sea and the effects that this large body of water has on the health of nearby inhabitants, especially children. USC investigator, Dr. Jill Johnston gave a brief presentation on the AIRE study which looks at the respiratory health of children living in the Northern part of the Imperial Valley. Following this presentation, the youth environmental health leadership interns talked about their experiences participating in the program and their efforts in meeting with legislators in Sacramento.

 The rest of the afternoon followed with more panels that discussed air pollution mitigation efforts across the Imperial Valley and in the eastern Coachella Valley. Guests were able to ask questions throughout each session and network with presenters and other attendees during breaks.  

AIRE study staff and student workers ready to talk to attendees about our work.
Dr. Farzan and student workers ready to answer questions.
Community member looking at our pesticide infographic.
Dr. Farzan explains the AIRE study to a community member.
Dr. Farzan is introduced by the mayor of Brawley, Mr. George Nava.
Dr. Johnston presents the AIRE study during the Health Disparities panel.
Dr. Johnston talks about the effects of the drying Salton Sea
The Health Disparities panel answers questions from audience members about their research.

NEW RESEARCH: Asthma may contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic

USC-led international study shows that asthma can make young people more susceptible to other health problems later in life

Press: BBC UK Radio (interview begins at 18:54), The Sun (UK), The Times of India (Video), USC News, USC Annenberg Radio,

Gary Polakovic, USC News, October 9, 2018

Toddlers with asthma are more likely to become obese children, according to a big international study led by USC scientists.

The finding is a turnabout for children’s health as obesity has often been seen as a precursor to asthma in children, not the other way around. The study, conducted by a team of 40 scientists including researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, was recently published in the European Respiratory Journal.

This is the largest study yet about early-onset asthma and obesity. It focused on more than 20,000 youths across Europe. It shows that, beyond wheezing and shortness of breath, asthma can lead to bodies that make young people more susceptible to other health problems later in life. Continue reading “NEW RESEARCH: Asthma may contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic”

October is Children’s Environmental Health Month

October 2018 – In recognition of Children’s Environmental Health Month, we will be featuring posts on our social media channels using the hashtag #ProtectKidsHealth. Look for information about the research, background information and actions people can take to help reduce environmental exposures to improve children’s health. Repost, retweet, and share posts from our center on topics you, your family members, and your community are interested in and want to raise awareness about. Look for posts in Spanish and English!

To stay engaged, follow USC Environmental Health Centers on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

October 11 is Children’s Environmental Health Day! In celebration of this day, the Children’s Environmental Health Network has organized an extensive social media campaign. Learn more about it here.

Graphic: Children’s Environmental Health Network,


NEW RESEARCH featured on NPR radio show: Science Friday

On Friday, September 28, NPR national radio show Science Daily, featured Dr. Carrie Breton talking about the recent research study that she and her team had published in JAMA Network Open. See link below to read more about the research.

Click here to listen to the 12 minute radio spot with Dr. Breton’s interview.

NEW RESEARCH: Air pollution affects thyroid development in fetuses

NEW VIDEO: Building environmental health literacy in urban communities

The  Community Engagement Core of the MADRES Environmental Health Disparities Center is pleased to share a video about our work to build environmental health literacy around toxins and health impacts found in commonly used household cleaning products with Latina mothers. The popular education workshops, done in partnership with public health interns from CalStateLA, introduce concepts of environmental health and justice rooted in participants lived experience while providing alternative methods for participants to create their own “Do It Yourself” green cleaning products.

Continue reading “NEW VIDEO: Building environmental health literacy in urban communities”

NEW RESEARCH: Air pollution affects thyroid development in fetuses

News Release:
Particle pollution is the culprit, raising concern about health impacts later in life

by Gary Polakovic, USC News, September 17, 2018

Soot and dust in smoggy cities alters thyroid development in fetuses, raising concern about health impacts later in life, new USC research shows.

It means that before a doctor cuts the umbilical cord or a parent hugs a baby, the caress of air pollution already reached the womb’s inner sanctum. The timing couldn’t be worse, as the researchers found that no matter when they checked, thyroid impacts were evident until the final month of gestation.

A USC study found that particulates in air pollution may affect fetal thyroid development. (Photo/Courtesy of the South Coast Air Quality Management District)

This is one of the few studies to monitor air pollution effects on a developing fetus and the first to track pollution changes month by month on thyroid hormones. The newly published research paper appears in JAMA Network Open.

“Air pollution is bad for adults and children and this study shows it may be bad for the fetus too, despite being protected in the womb,” said Carrie Breton, corresponding author of the study and associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “Thyroid function is important for lots of elements of life and tweaking that in utero may have lifelong consequences.” Continue reading “NEW RESEARCH: Air pollution affects thyroid development in fetuses”