Los Angeles Times Editorial: Residential Development Near Freeways is Bad for Health

As many people who read this blog and follow the work of USC Environmental Health Centers know, our researchers spend much of their time and energy studying the health effects of outdoor air pollution. In particular, our researchers have published many studies on how pollution near busy roads and freeways can affect people’s health both in the short term and over the lifespan.

Therefore, we take particular note when media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times not only cover stories that relate to the impact of the environment on health but publish editorials about them.

The LA Times editorial below describes important information that people living in urban areas should consider when choosing where to live, as well as how cities and urban developers can influence and protect or (or alternatively create health risks for) local residents.

Editorial: L.A.’s freeway-adjacent residents need more protection from pollution

Feature and background article on the DaVinci apartment complex fire:
Da Vinci developer packs apartment complexes next to freeways 

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.

NEWS RELEASE: Research links tobacco smoke and roadway air pollution with childhood obesity

LOS ANGELES — New research from Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) bolsters evidence that exposure to tobacco smoke and near-roadway air pollution contribute to the development of obesity.

The study, to be posted online Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014 in Environmental Health Perspectives, (click here) shows increased weight gain during adolescence in children exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke or near-roadway air pollution, compared to children with no exposure to either of these air pollutants. The study is one of the first to look at the combined effects on body mass index of exposure to both near-roadway air pollution and tobacco smoke. The effects were substantially greater in children exposed to both air pollutant mixtures than to either alone.

“Vehicle miles traveled, exposure to some components of the near-roadway air pollutant mixture, and near roadway residential development have increased across the United States over the last several decades corresponding to the epidemic of childhood obesity,” said Rob McConnell, M.D., professor of preventive medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC and lead author on the study. “The potential for near-roadway air pollution to be among several factors contributing to the epidemic of obesity merits further investigation.”

The research builds on previous studies showing that exposure to secondhand smoke and particulate air pollution cause heart and lung disease.

Childhood obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obese youth are more likely to suffer from health challenges, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, bone and joint problems, social stigmatization and self-esteem problems. Obesity for children is defined by the CDC as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.

The USC study examined exposure of more than 3,000 children to tobacco smoke during their mothers’ pregnancy and to secondhand smoke, as well as air pollution effects from busy roadways, and looked for associations with body mass index. The children were enrolled at age 10 in the Southern California Children’s Health Study, started in 1992 to study the long-term effects of air pollution on children. The children were followed yearly over an eight-year period through high school graduation at age 18. Most of the children were non-Hispanic white or Hispanic.

The researchers estimated near-roadway pollution exposure, taking into account traffic volume, how close the children lived to roadways and predominant wind direction. At study entry, a parent-completed questionnaire was used to determine lifetime tobacco smoke exposure.

“Further research is needed to determine if our findings can be replicated in other populations,” McConnell said, “and to assess both the potential contribution of combustion sources to the epidemic of obesity and the potential impact of interventions to reduce exposure.”

Funding for the research comes from the National Institutes of Health (grants P01ES022845, P30ES007048, P01ES009581, P01ES011627, P50 CA180905, R01ES016535, R01HD061968 and R03ES014046), the Environmental Protection Agency (grants RD83544101, R826708 and RD831861) and the Hastings Foundation.


McConnell, R., Shen, E., Gilliland, F.D., Jerrett, M., Wolch, J., Chang, C., Lurmann, F., Berhane, K. (2014). A Longitudinal Cohort Study of Body Mass Index and Childhood Exposure to Secondhand Tobacco Smoke and Air Pollution: The Southern California Children’s Health Study. Environmental Health Perspectives. Published online Nov. 12, 2014.


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.

For more information, go to www.keckmedicine.org/beyond

This news release was prepared by USC Health Sciences Public Relations & Marketing and the Division of Environmental Health.

Hong Kong Air Quality Researcher, Simon Ng Visits USC

Simon Ng, Chief Research Officer at Hong Kong-based nonprofit Civic Exchange, visited the Environmental Health Division on November 3 to present and share information on port air pollution surrounding Hong Kong. Civic Exchange is an “independent public policy think tank undertaking research to advance civic education and engage society to shape public policy.” During Ng’s presentation, researchers at USC Environmental Health and community partners were interested to hear about factors that make Hong Kong both similar and quite different compared to the ports of LA and Long Beach. Being surrounded by water on three sides, Hong Kong is greatly impacted by pollution that is generated from ships traveling to ports on either side of the city, not to mention ships that travel directly to Hong Kong’s port. This makes for some unique challenges in that Ng and colleagues at Civic Exchange must work with a wide variety of local and international stakeholders as they seek to reduce port emissions in and around Hong Kong.

Ng and Civic Exchange have published several reports on the public health impacts of ship emissions in the area, a hot topic for cities with large ports around the world. The reports provide a detailed look at the scope of the problem and control options; valuable information for those looking at policy options and government interventions at ports.

In recent years, Ng and Civic Exchange have partnered with the University of Hong Kong Public Health School on developing a website: The Hedley Environmental Index, which quantifies the financial burden that air pollution places on the region around Hong Kong. This unique site gives the viewer a real-time view of the ever increasing factors and costs such as deaths, hospital bed days, doctor visits and total economic loss. When visiting this site, one can also see real-time concentrations of specific pollutants around Hong Kong.

Civic Exchange is collaborating with the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College on a China – Environment project funded by the LUCE foundation which sponsored Simon’s week long activities in Southern California.

CENTER MEMBER RESEARCH: Dr. Heather Volk – Autism and Air Pollution

USC Assistant Professor Heather Volk is on a roll. Dr. Volk recently secured major funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to lead a study that could potentially have implications for the prevention of autism. This research seeks to further explore the role traffic-related air pollution may play in causing autistic traits and cognitive delays in children from birth to 3 years of age. This study comes on the heels of Volk’s most recently published research which focused on the frequency of how a particular genetic risk factor for autism combined with prenatal exposure to air pollution may increase the incidence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Drs. Volk and Rob McConnell (USC professor and air pollution epidemiologist) and colleagues from universities across the country have been awarded more than $2 million by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences over the course of the next four years (July 2014-July 2018) to implement their study entitled “Prospective Evaluation of Air Pollution, Cognition, and Autism from Birth Onward.” This study will combine the cohorts of two multi-year (longitudinal) studies that are being conducted at UC Davis , Kaiser Permanente in Northern California , Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. See also this USC News article about the study.

The two studies include participants who live near research sites across the country including: multiple counties in southwest Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, northeast Maryland, and people who live within a two hour radius of the San Francisco Bay Area. (MARBLES study and EARLI study)

Dr. Volk explains: “This study looks at the neurodevelopmental outcomes of children whose mothers have had one child with ASD and looks at their early development.” She adds: “Air pollution modeling techniques will be used to measure the pollution levels of kids being followed in these studies across time as well as the levels of air pollution their mothers were exposed to when they were pregnant. “ Mothers who have been exposed to similar pollution will have biomarkers in their blood analyzed for various pollutants related to traffic, including ultrafine particulate matter. Results of this research will aim to identify specific characteristics related to autism that may be caused by pollution that the children and their mothers are exposed to.

“We hope that by studying the relationships between air pollution, autism, and neurodevelopment in several areas of the country where a broad range of air pollution is present we will be able to impact the health and development of children even in highly polluted areas like Southern California,” said Volk.

“Prospective Evaluation of Air Pollution, Cognition, and Autism from Birth Onward” is an NIEHS RO1 grant funded study. Participating investigators include: USC (Heather Volk – PI, Rob McConnell), UC Davis (Irva Hertz-Picciotto), Drexel (Craig J. Newschaffer), Kaiser (Lisa Croen), Johns Hopkins (M. Daniele Fallin), and Duke (Jufeng Zhang).

In addition, on November 10, Dr. Volk, along with Linda Birnbaum, Director of the NIEHS and Leonardo Trasande, M.D., MPP Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Environmental Medicine & Health Policy, NYU School of Medicine will be testifying at a Congressional Briefing hosted by Representative David Price (D-NC). The presentation, “Ensuring a Healthy Start for Every Child: How the Environment Influences Health & Development,” is co-sponsored by Friends of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Thoracic Society, and the National Center for Environmental Health Strategies. Stay tuned for move coverage of this important event.

USC Researchers to do a New Study on LAX Air Pollution and Asthma

We are announcing the launch of a pilot study looking at how exposure to ultrafine particles from plane landings at LAX affects lung function and inflammation in adults with asthma. Our official launch date is November 15th, for an initial one month phase.

Those interested in participating, please contact Dr. Rima Habre to obtain information. Click on the images below to read more…

Click on image to enlarge.

Click on image to enlarge.

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)