Outreach program and community partners host “Diesel and Your Health” lunch forum

On November 24, the community/academic collaborative the “Trade, Health and Environment (THE) Impact Project” partners hosted the first of an ongoing lunch series. The Community Outreach and Engagement Program of USC’s Environmental Health Centers is a longstanding part of THE Impact Project. The meeting focused on the urgency of addressing health impacts from diesel emissions, and brought together organizations and concerned community members from impacted areas.

Moderator Michele Prichard, director of Common Agenda for the Liberty Hill Foundation, kicked off the program by asking participants to introduce themselves and tell the others on a scale of 1-10 how much they thought they already knew about the health effects of diesel emissions. (Attendees were much too modest in their assessments!) Presenter Andrea Hricko of USC then did a presentation on the Health Effects of Diesel, highlighting the national, state and local history of the path that diesel emission reduction has taken. She noted that although progress has been made in reducing overall diesel emissions in the Southern California regions, there is still a long way to go in terms of reducing diesel emissions in specific diesel “hot spots” around the region. Such “hot spots ” receive the brunt of diesel emissions, thereby raising health risks in the most impacted communities, near the ports, rail yards, warehouses and traffic corridors.

These risks were highlighted in the recently released MATES IV report from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, found here. The report has an interactive map, allowing viewers to click on their communities and see the overall cancer risk from air toxics, including diesel particulate matter.

Professor Martha Matsuoka from Occidental College outlined the history of THE Impact Project whose efforts included hosting conferences that were the impetus for developing a nationwide Moving Forward Network. Matsuoka explained that the Network serves as a resource, bringing environmental, community, academic, and other groups from around the country together to share information, resources, trainings and workshops.

To round out the featured presentations, mark! Lopez, Director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, spoke to the participants, many of whom live in areas impacted by heavy diesel emissions, of the need for community change to push for environmental justice for people living around ports, freeways, and goods movement centers. Lopez spoke about not accepting “the way things are,” but changing the environment to be a healthy place in which people live, work, play and go to school.

At the conclusion of the presentations, participants discussed their concerns and questions. The following themes emerged for future activities and further information:

  • Strategies for healthy living in polluted and disadvantaged communities
  • Advances in technology to deal with port/goods movement pollution
  • Local forums hosted in affected communities
  • Updates on the current status of goods movement projects in the area
  • Scientific information in easy-to-access form for community

THE Impact Project Partners include:
Coalition For A Safe Environment (CFASE)
East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ)
Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma (LBACA)
University of Southern California (USC) Centers for Environmental Health, Community Outreach Program
Urban & Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI), Occidental College

Thanks to sponsorship by the Luce China-Environment Program at the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) at Occidental College.

Dr. Ite Laird-Offringa Gives Lecture about Epigenetics and Lung Cancer Research

The SCEHSC sponsors monthly lectures featuring researchers from USC and other universities that relate to Environmental Health research. On Friday, October 3, Dr. Ite Laird-Offringa, of USC Norris Cancer Center visited the SCEHSC to lecture on “The Promise of Epigenomics to Dissect Human Tissue Function in Health and Disease.”

Dr. Laird-Offringa and her team of researchers are studying the role of DNA methylation and other epigenetic events in the development and progression of lung cancer. During her lecture, Dr. Laird-Offringa pointed out that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United states and world wide, and that the American Cancer Society estimates that 27% of all cancer deaths in the USA in 2014 will be from lung cancer. The long term objective of Dr. Laird’s research is to better understand the epigenetic control of cellular development in both cancerous and normal lung cells and to provide information that will enable lung cancer to be diagnosed earlier and therefore treated sooner. In the majority of instances, lung cancer is diagnosed too late along the continuum of the disease, resulting in high mortality rates.

Several faculty members commented on Dr. Laird-Offringa’s line of research. Dr. Carrie Breton, an assistant professor in the EH Division, explained, “While Dr. Laird’s approach has focused on understanding differences in epigenomic regulation in lung cancer, these same tools are of interest to researchers in Environmental Health. Environmental exposures may cause alterations to the epigenome that then affect downstream health outcomes of interest.”

Professor Ed Avol, organizer of the Center seminar series, noted, “One of the research areas of Center investigators is cancer and the importance of environmental exposures in cancer development. Lung cancer, and the obvious association with respiratory health, provides an ideal opportunity to see how our Center can gain new perspectives from other investigators that might re-frame our research directions.”

In addition giving a lecture, Dr. Laird-Offringa, spent time meeting with EH Division faculty members and researchers. Division research associates who are involved in the SCEHSC Career Development program had dedicated time to dialogue with Dr. Laird-Offringa about her experiences in the field, her career trajectory, and what has brought her the most challenge and reward over the course of her career. Among others she advised postdoctoral fellows to keep an active eye on their publication records: “Not every paper has to be a Cell, Science, or Nature paper; when your findings are only moderately interesting but solidly executed, consider publishing them to create a body of work you can build upon”.

LEARN MORE: For a basic explanation of Epigenetics, check out this short video: Engaging Epigenetics: A Tool for Stakeholder Education

Upcoming SCEHSC sponsored lectures include:

November 7:
“Outcome-based Design of Instruments for Measuring Exposures to Fine and Ultrafine Particles”
Dr. Richard Flagan, McCollum/Corcoran Professor, Depts of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, California Institute of Technology.
2001 N. Soto Street , Los Angeles, CA 90032, SSB 116

December 5:
Dr. W. James Gauderman, Director – Division Of Biostatistics, Dept of Preventive Medicine, USC
(Time and Location are the same as above)