NEW PUBLICATION: Community engaged participatory youth air monitoring program in urban Los Angeles “A Day in the Life”

The Community Engagement Program on Health and the Environment team of Wendy Gutschow and Jill Johnston, along with partners Zully Juarez (prospective UCLA MURP graduate in 2020), Sandy Navarro (LA Grit Media), Ashley Hernandez (Communities for a Better Environment) have published an article in IJERPH about the program they implemented that incorporated air monitoring and storytelling with youth in environmental justice organizations around the Los Angeles area.

A Day in the Life participants at Communities for a Better Environment learn about air monitoring using AirBeams.
A Day in the Life participants at South Central Youth Leadership Coalition monitor the air front of the AllenCo oil drilling site in South Los Angeles.

From the article:

Air pollution in Southern California does not impact all communities equally; communities of color are disproportionately burdened by poor air quality and more likely to live near industrial facilities and freeways. Government regulatory monitors do not have the spatial resolution to provide air quality information at the neighborhood or personal scale. We describe the A Day in the Life program, an approach to participatory air monitoring that engages youth in collecting data that they can then analyze and use to take action. Academics partnered with Los Angeles-based youth environmental justice organizations to combine personal air monitoring, participatory science, and digital storytelling to build capacity to address local air quality issues. Eighteen youth participants from four different neighborhoods wore portable personal PM2.5 (fine particles <2.5 µm in diameter) monitors for a day in each of their respective communities, documenting and mapping their exposure to PM2.5 during their daily routine. Air monitoring was coupled with photography and videos to document what they experienced over the course of their day. The PM2.5 exposure during the day for participants averaged 10.7 µg/m3, although the range stretched from <1 to 180 µg/m3. One-third of all measurements were taken <300 m from a freeway. Overall, we demonstrate a method to increase local youth-centered understanding of personal exposures, pollution sources, and vulnerability to air quality.

“I enjoyed doing this project because it was a lot of new information for me that directly impacts me as a community member, as well as learning about the way particulate matter affects our daily lives. With all of this new information, I want to educate my community on how harmful these particulates are, and how change should begin with personal choices people make throughout their day.”—CBE Youth, Huntington Park, CA.

To read more of how this program was implemented and the work that the youth, community organizers and staff put into making this happen, click through to read and download the full article here. Read more about the program on the Day in the Life program page here.  

Participants in the Day in the Life program since its inception in 2017 include:

LA Grit Media, South Central Youth Leadership Coalition, Communities for a Better Environment, Promoting Youth Advocacy, and Asian Pacific Islander Forward Movement, and Pacoima Beautiful.

The article is open access, available free of change to anyone who would like to download it.

Jill E. Johnston, Zully Juarez, Sandy Navarro, Ashley Hernandez, and Wendy Gutschow. (2020) “Youth Engaged Participatory Air Monitoring: A ‘Day in the Life’ in Urban Environmental Justice Communities.” Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 17(1), 93; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17010093

This work was funded, in part, by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (5P30ES007048 and P01ES022845) and the Environmental Protection Agency (83544101).

NEW RESEARCH connects air pollution, memory problems and Alzheimer’s-like brain changes

BY Leigh Hopper, in USC News, NOVEMBER 20, 2019

Women in their 70s and 80s who were exposed to fine particle pollution had declines in memory and physical brain changes that were not seen in women who breathed cleaner air.

Women in their 70s and 80s who were exposed to higher levels of air pollution experienced greater declines in memory and more Alzheimer’s-like brain atrophy than their counterparts who breathed cleaner air, according to USC researchers.

Illustration: Shutterstock

The findings of the nationwide study, published Wednesday in the journal Brain, touch on the renewed interest in preventing Alzheimer’s disease by reducing risk as well as hint at a potential disease mechanism. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and there’s currently no cure or treatment.

“This is the first study to really show, in a statistical model, that air pollution was associated with changes in people’s brains and that those changes were then connected with declines in memory performance,” said Andrew Petkus, assistant professor of clinical neurology at the Keck School of Medicine at USC. “Our hope is that, by better understanding the underlying brain changes caused by air pollution, researchers will be able to develop interventions to help people with or at risk for cognitive decline.”

Fine particles, also called PM2.5 particles, are about 1/30th the width of a human hair. They come from traffic exhaust, smoke and dust and their tiny size allows them to remain airborne for long periods, get inside buildings, be inhaled easily, and reach and accumulate in the brain. Fine particle pollution is associated with asthma, cardiovascular disease, lung disease and premature death.

Previous research has suggested that fine particle pollution exposure increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. What scientists haven’t known is whether PM2.5 alters brain structure and accelerates memory decline.

Continue reading “NEW RESEARCH connects air pollution, memory problems and Alzheimer’s-like brain changes”

NEW RESEARCH: How diet contributes to toxic exposure for pregnant women and children

BY Jenesse Miller, in USC News,  OCTOBER 22, 2019

Which foods are the healthiest, and which cause us harm? It’s been debated long before “paleo,” “low-carb” and “sugar-busting” entered our lexicon. But even staples of widely acknowledged healthy diets like fish and fruit may be harmful in higher doses for certain vulnerable groups. That’s because of exposure to pesticides and other contaminants in these foods, according to a new study in Environmental Health Perspectives.

“Pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable to exposures to food contaminants,” said study co-author Lida Chatzi, associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “During gestation and early development, the fetus and the child, respectively, are vulnerable to the effects of environmental chemicals. A balanced diet during these periods is also critical for optimal nutritional status, but what to eat, and how much, are critical questions.”

Because pregnant women and fetuses are sensitive to chemicals and pesticides found in food, researchers are studying the relationship between diet and levels of 33 environmental contaminants. (Photo/iStock, courtesy of USC News)

The study published in Environmental Health Perspectives can be found here.

Continue reading “NEW RESEARCH: How diet contributes to toxic exposure for pregnant women and children”

Jill Johnston recognized at the 31st Annual Clean Air Awards

On October 4, 2019, Dr. Jill Johnston was recognized for her outstanding contributions in the field of air pollution health research and efforts to improve public health as she received the Robert M. Zweig, M.D. Memorial Award given to her by the South Coast Air Quality Management District at their 31st Annual Clean Air Awards Luncheon in downtown Los Angeles.

As Dr. Johnston, accepted her award she said:

“Thank you, I am honored and humbled to receive this award.  I would like to first recognize and thank all the communities on the frontline working tirelessly to make sure we can all breathe clean air.   They are my motivation and inspiration for research and studies. 

Secondly, I thank my team of amazing women that make sure science and data doesn’t stay in the ivy tower, but is a tool for residents and public officials to use.  This aims to increase capacity of community residents to collect and understand their air quality.

Building upon decades of research from scientists, doctors and communities, the evidence is overwhelming – air pollution harms people of all ages, effects our health in many different ways and at concentrations lower than typical days in LA – and increasingly, we see evidence that this harm is transgenerational. 

As the frequency of unhealthy air days is rising, as toxics continue to be emitted near schools and homes, it is clear that we pay a too high a price for inaction. I want for my daughters to live in a LA where they won’t have to check the Air Quality Index or install air monitors because the right to clean air will be available to everyone. 

So with this, I ask that we collaborate and proactively implement real solutions.”

Continue reading “Jill Johnston recognized at the 31st Annual Clean Air Awards”

New StoryMap: Urban Oil and Gas Production in Los Angeles County

Los Angeles County, California is the largest urban oil field in the country and home to thousands of active oil wells in very close proximity to homes, schools and parks.  Using state data, this new tools allows you to assess proximity of active or idle wells to your location and see how much oil or gas is produced nearby.  Overall, we find that 75% of active wells are within 2500 feet of residential buildings. 

The full StoryMap can be viewed here. A slideshow version of the StoryMap can be viewed below.

NEW RESEARCH: Estimating asthma incidence if air pollution levels had remained high and if the levels were lowered

Building off a recent study, our team of researchers had a study published this week in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America). The study, looking at data from 9 communities in the Children’s Health Study can be found here.

Related research published earlier this year (Garcia et al. JAMA 2019) found strong associations between new-onset asthma in children and exposure to air pollutants, specifically NO2 and PM2.5. “We wanted to take these results a step further by estimating answers to ‘What-if’ scenarios, such as ‘What if the observed air quality improvements in the 1990s and early 2000s never happened?’ or ‘What if no one was exposed to more than 20 ppb NO2?’ This approach would provide us with an estimate of what would happen to asthma incidence rates in children given different shift in air pollution exposure,” said Erika Garcia, lead study author and researcher in the department of Preventive Medicine in the Keck School of Medicine.

9 southern California communities from the Children’s Health Study featured in this research paper. Map background layer: Google Maps.
Continue reading “NEW RESEARCH: Estimating asthma incidence if air pollution levels had remained high and if the levels were lowered”

NEW RESEARCH from our MADRES Center

A new research article published in May 2019 provides an in-depth overview of the study design, protocol, and profile of our Maternal And Developmental Risks from Environmental and Social Stressors (MADRES) pregnancy cohort.

The full text of the article and more information can be found here.

The overarching goal of the “Maternal And Developmental Risks from Environmental and Social Stressors (MADRES)” cohort study is to better understand the increased risk for childhood obesity and maternal obesity outcomes among underserved women and children in Los Angeles.

The burden of childhood and adult obesity disproportionately affects certain racial and ethnic groups and groups with lower income and education levels. These same groups are often disproportionately affected by environmental pollution. Pregnancy is a critical developmental period where maternal environmental exposures and stress may have significant impacts on infant and childhood growth as well as the future health of the mother.

The ongoing MADRES study is a prospective pregnancy cohort of 1000 women-child pairs in Los Angeles, CA. Enrollment in the MADRES cohort is initiated prior to 30 weeks gestation from partner community health clinics in Los Angeles. Cohort participants are followed through their pregnancies, at birth, and during the infant’s first year of life through a series of in-person visits with interviewer-administered questionnaires, anthropometric measurements and biospecimen collection as well as telephone interviews conducted with the mother.

In addition to describing the study design of the cohort, this newly published study provides an overview of the cohort characteristics for 291 participants who have delivered their infants, out of 523 participants enrolled in the study from November 2015 to October 2018 from four community health clinics in Los Angeles.

“Future results from the MADRES cohort could be used by community organizations, policy makers, health providers, to better understand the risk of chemical exposures during pregnancy as well as the importance of psychosocial stress on important health outcomes in women and children,” said lead author Tracy Bastain.

Funding

This work was supported by the Maternal and Developmental Risks from Environmental and Social Stressors (MADRES) Center (grant #s P50ES026086, 83615801–0) funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities and the Environmental Protection Agency; the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center (grant # P30ES007048) funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Lifecourse Approach to Developmental Repercussions of Environmental Agents on Metabolic and Respiratory health (LA DREAMERs) (grant #s UH3OD023287) funded by the National Institutes of Health Office of the Director ECHO Program.