“A Day in the Life” program starts its second cohort with youth members of Pacoima Beautiful

On April 25, USC Community Engagement staff along with community partner Sandy Navarro from LA Grit Media began A Day in the Life program with youth from Pacoima Beautiful. The training kicked off the program during which youth from Pacoima will engage in community based air monitoring and storytelling through digital media. For more information on A Day in the Life click here.

Air pollution and air monitoring training during the Day in the Life workshop with youth members of Pacoima Beautiful.
Sandy Navarro of LA Grit Media presents her Storytelling for Social Change workshop during the training at Pacoima Beautiful.

Faculty spotlight for Public Health week: Carrie Breton

This post was published on the Department of Preventive Medicine’s website as part of their National Public Health Week series. Please find the original post here.

Environmental health researcher Carrie Breton, ScD, associate professor of preventive medicine, has dedicated the last decade to studying how environmental exposures—like air pollution—early in life contribute to the increased risk of disease later in life. In this Q&A learn about her work as part of a maternal and developmental research center.

Health issues arising from climate change and air pollution are getting more attention than ever, but what about the risks even before birth? At the Maternal And Developmental Risks from Environmental and Social Stressors (MADRES) Center, researchers including Carrie Breton, ScD, associate professor of preventive medicine, have become increasingly concerned with the impact environmental factors and stressors can have in utero.

Carrie Breton
What area of public health does your work focus on?

I conduct research centered on understanding how early-life environmental exposures affect risks for cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic diseases later in life. As part of this research paradigm, I have focused on exploring the novel roles that epigenetic changes may have in affecting susceptibility to environmental exposures such as air pollution and tobacco smoke.

What drew you the topic of environmental exposure in particular?

I have a fundamental interest in understanding how the environment affects pregnancy and the developing child.

Continue reading “Faculty spotlight for Public Health week: Carrie Breton”

“A Day in the Life” youth program participants present at annual conference

In March 2019, youth participants from the Los Angeles communities of South LA and Wilmington, along with youth organizers from their respective communities and USC Environmental Health staff presented at the annual Citizen Science Conference, held this year in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The group presented during a workshop comprised of groups from around the country: Building Collaboration and Ensuring Justice in Community-Based Participatory Research: Lessons Learned from California, South Carolina, and Michigan.

The two youth who presented have shared the following reflections about their experience presenting and attending the conference:

Ashley Lazaro, 12th grade, South Central Youth Leadership Coalition

The highlight of my trip was having the opportunity to share my story with others and being able to connect with others that were dealing with similar situations. This trip taught me to be more assertive and to stand up for myself. I learned to not feel inferior or intimidated by anyone and that my voice as a youth is powerful.

To me citizen science means science or research that is conducted by the community itself. However, I do wish it was called people’s science to be more inclusive to my immigrant community.  Citizen science gives me the opportunity to defend myself. Taking the research into my own hands gives me and my community power against big industries who try to make us feel inferior.

In the future I hope that the Day in the Life project can expand to more youth in the community. It was a helpful and fun project. Next time, people can journal their journey or it can be expanded to a week in the life. 

Ashley Lazaro, presenting at the Citizen Science Conference.

Viridia Preciado, 12th grade, Communities for a Better Environment

The highlight of my trip was exploring a new place and exploring all it had to offer. What I took away from this trip was understanding that not only my community is going through all of this environmental racism, but others around the world are going through similar things. If parts of my community have came together to fight for environmental justice, why can’t the whole world do that to get what was once stolen from us. The right to clean air, water, soil, and so much more. 

What citizen science means to me is the work and research done by individuals in our community to make that change and present it back to others to inform them. CBE may not use the term citizen science to describe our work, but it connects with our work because the community is really the ones who do all the work to mark a change in this world. 

It would be great to involve more people to really experience this great program and to fully understand what it’s like to be in their community.

Viridiana Preciado presenting at the Citizen Science conference.
Continue reading ““A Day in the Life” youth program participants present at annual conference”

SCEHSC to host Omics Symposium, March 8, 2019

Join us for a one-day symposium, hosted by our NIEHS funded Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center at the University of Southern California. Omics technologies are new biomarker discovery tools that can be applied to study large sets of biological molecules. Their application in human population studies has become feasible in recent years due to the recent and spectacular increase in sensitivity, resolution, and high throughput of analytical assays now possible. Although the number of omics techniques is ever-expanding, their application in Environmental Health research has been limited thus far.

Omics in Environmental Health Research, one day symposium, March 8, 2019.  https://www.omicsusc.org/

During this one-day symposium, we’ll discuss opportunities these new technologies provide for Environmental Health Research. We’ll address challenges in data interpretation generated by omics technologies. We’ll provide examples of studies leveraging omics technologies to investigate health effects of common environmental exposures. We’ll also discuss how the complex mix of environmental exposures (exposome) shapes human health through changes in the “metabolome” and gut microbiome. We’ll highlight large consortia initiatives which enable applications of omics technologies in environmental health research.

We invite researchers new to the field, as well as those who are already using “omics” in environmental health research to attend this meeting (max number of participants ~150-200max, a

No-cost registration is required, and a lite breakfast and box lunch will be provided.

Register soon, capacity is limited!
To register go to: omics.usc.edu

Airport pollution linked to acute health effects among people with asthma in Los Angeles

by Wendy Gutschow

A recent research study by Dr. Rima Habre took a detailed look at the short-term health impacts caused by breathing in ultrafine particulate (UFP) matter that is emitted from aircraft activity at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Several years ago, USC researchers identified a clear pattern of UFP emissions from takeoff and landing aircraft activities at LAX. Levels of the dangerous UFPs were found to be 4 to 5 times greater than background levels in downwind communities.  “Ultrafine particulate matter is known to contribute to reduced lung function, and airway inflammation in individuals with asthma. We wanted to take a close look at short term effects on health when individuals breathe air that contains UFPs from airplanes,” said Habre. The study participants were made up of adults with doctor diagnosed asthma.

Rima Habre holds an ultrafine particle monitor monitor while a plane flies overhead. Photo courtesy of Something in the Air documentary.

Dr. Rima Habre has been with USC for five years. Dr. Habre’s expertise lies in air pollution exposure assessment, analyzing patterns of how people get exposed to air pollution across time and space and studying how specific pollutants impact their health.  

Recently Dr. Habre’s work reached the international stage through a documentary, produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, called Something in the Air.  “The producers were very interested in learning more about our latest work around air pollution and asthma – specifically around the latest technologies we are using to better understand the impacts of small particles on a personal level – in children and adults with asthma, and in pregnant women.” Dr. Habre was interviewed about her work around ultrafine particle exposures downwind of major airports and its effects on asthma, as well as her work to understand how children’s personal exposure to air pollution predict their risk of experiencing an asthma attack. Something in the Air will be released this week in Canada, with an international release to be announced.

Airport-related ultrafines affect health differently than traffic-related ultrafine particles

Habre and her team designed this study to test the short-term effects of breathing ultrafine particles by asking study participants to walk in a Los Angeles park located within the known higher levels of UFPs emitted from airplanes and near heavily trafficked roads, and another park farther away from the airport and busy roads with lower levels of UFPs.

The map above shows the two parks where the study took place. The grey shaded area shows the approximate location of the plume of ultrafine particles created by air traffic around LAX, that usually occurs when the winds are blowing steadily from the West.

“In our study, we found that inhaling UFPs led to higher inflammation in the blood in adults with asthma shortly after exposure. However, different inflammation markers responded to aircraft-related versus traffic-related UFPs – both of which are major ultrafine particle sources in dense urban areas. We were able to see these different signals because we managed to overcome the challenge of separating the air pollution mixture into its major sources using sophisticated measurements and modeling techniques,” said Habre.  The pollutants measured by the study included UFP particle number, particle size, black carbon, carbon dioxide, particle-bound polyaromatic hydrocarbons, and ozone.

The significance of Habre’s study is that in such a short time, following regular walking exposure and a higher exposure, they were able to see significant elevation in inflammation systemically, not just in the lungs but in the overall blood circulation. Inflammation is tied to a lot of disease processes; cardiovascular, respiratory, and metabolic. “We don’t know specifically what this inflammation will lead to down the line, but we know that inflammation is generally a bad thing, and will complicate or exacerbate existing conditions. Ideally, we would have liked to have been able to monitor people long-term to see if that inflammation persists or if it goes down after a while but we were not able to do that in this specific study, that’s a future direction of this research I’d like to look at,” said Habre.

When asked what this research means to the overall population, Habre described the current body of research that has found ultrafine particles to be much more toxic than the larger sizes of particulate matter, UFPs are not regulated, and UFPs impact large numbers of people who live in communities surrounding airports.

Ultrafine particulate matter research: future directions

Dr. Habre also leads environmental exposure assessment efforts in multiple research studies being conducted at USC, including the MADRES study of pregnant women and babies and the LA DREAMERs study of children’s health across the life course, and in partnership with other research groups such as the Los Angeles PRISMS Center, a UCLA/USC partnership.  Her work in the Los Angeles PRISMS Center is taking a deeper dive into the different sources of air pollution asthmatic children encounter in their day to day lives in Los Angeles and how it impacts their health.  This study focuses on personal experiences, using Bluetooth-enabled wearable sensors to monitor environmental exposures, location, activity, medications and symptoms, to ultimately generate new information to help predict and prevent asthma attacks. To learn more about the Los Angeles PRISMS Center, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m72NkwolgU&feature=youtu.be

As she moves forward with her research on the health effects of ultrafine particulate matter in urban areas, Dr. Habre plans to build on her current work by studying how people with asthma are affected, as well as those who are obese, have diabetes, or cardiovascular issues. “I would like to be able to capture a wider variety of sources of ultrafines in urban areas and also be able to monitor individuals for a longer period of time to really understand what happens next. In this study we saw very quick and acute effects, but do people tend to recover after a day? I think the ultimate goal would be to really understand if people living in these high exposure locations, for extended periods of time, and breathing this mixture in regularly are at a significantly higher risk or not,” she said.


For more information on the “Something in the Air” documentary that Dr. Habre’s work is featured in, on the documentary’s website: www.somethingintheair.ca. Once the documentary is released in the United States, USC Environmental Health Centers will publish the release date and viewing information.

Rima Habre, Hui Zhou, Sandrah P. Eckel, Temuulen Enebish, Scott Fruin, Theresa M. Bastain, Edward B. Rappaport, and Frank D Gilliland, 2018. Short-term effects of airport-associated ultrafine particle exposure on lung function and inflammation in adults with asthma. Environment International. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2018.05.031

Funding: This study was funded by the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, P30ES007048) pilot program, NIEHS grants 1R01ES023262, 1K22ES022987, 1R01ES027860, and the Hastings Foundation.

NEW RESEARCH: The disappearing Salton Sea: A critical reflection on the emerging environmental threat of disappearing saline lakes and potential impacts on children’s health

Researchers and community partners of the USC Children’s AIRE study recently published a paper that summarizes the public health dimensions of a shrinking Salton Sea.  Competing water demands in the southwest are dramatically altering the landscape and creating conditions conducive to the production of wind-blown dust and dust storms in this region. 

“Children are highly susceptible to the impacts of air pollutants, as their lungs and immune systems continue to develop throughout childhood. Studies show that wind-blown dust may adversely impact respiratory health and these effects by be amplified in environmental justice communities” said Jill Johnston. The authors highlight the need for meaningful collaboration across government, researchers and the community residents to facilitate the development of both mitigation and adaptive measures to respond to the shrinking Sea. 

Images of three sites located on southern shore of Salton Sea, in 2002 (left panels, a, c, and e) and in 2017 (right panels b, d, and f). Aerial images were obtained using Google Earth and show differences in location of shoreline in relation to farm fields and exposure of lakebed playa over time. Image used from the published research, via Science of the Total Environment Journal

Learn more about the AIRE Study including study partner Comite Civico del Valle, Inc. at the study website here.

Jill Johnston, Mitiasoa Razafy, Humberto Lugo, Luis Olmedo, Shohreh F. Farzan, 2019. The disappearing Salton Sea: A critical reflection on the emerging environmental threat of disappearing saline lakes and potential impacts on children’s health. Science of The Total Environment. 2019 vol: 663 pp: 804-817. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.01.365

This research project is funded by NIEHS, grant #1R01ES029598-01

NEW RESEARCH: New satellite mapping method looks at flaring of oil and gas operations in Texas

Recently researchers Meredith Franklin and Jill Johnston from the Keck School of Medicine, and colleagues published a study that demonstrates a new way of identifying oil and gas flaring sites using satellite observations. This will go a long way in more accurately identifying and characterizing the public health impacts of exposure to flares, which contain a variety of harmful air toxics that can be released over days and years.

Flaring. Image: Shutterstock

Flaring is a widely used practice for the disposal of natural gas through burning. The practice of flaring near unconventional oil and gas extraction sites has become much more common in the U.S. in recent years. Flares often burn continually for weeks, and they are highly visible so nearby residents often complain of odors and noise.

For this study, the researchers focused their analysis on one of the most productive oil and gas regions in the United States, the Eagle Ford Shale in southern and central Texas.  The analysis identified 43887 distinct oil and gas flares in the Eagle For from 2012 to 2016, with a peak in activity in 2014 and an estimated 4.5 billion cubic meters of total gas volume flared.

While on a much smaller scale, flaring occurs in Los Angeles, where oil and gas wells are embedded in neighborhoods and commercial parts of the city. Residents living in close proximity to oil and gas activity can be exposed to potentially harmful air pollution and can experience disruption from noise and nuisance of the equipment and rigs.

 “The practice of flaring near unconventional oil and gas extraction sites has become much more common in the U.S. in recent years, but systemic reporting is lacking,” said the study’s lead author Meredith Franklin. “Our analysis demonstrates a new way of identifying oil and gas flaring sites using satellite observations that is objective and can tell us exactly where and when flaring is occurring.”

The act of flaring releases a variety of harmful air toxics. Many of these pollutants are well documented to cause long and short-term health impacts. “We plan additional studies to look at the role of flaring on the health of the local communities in the Eagle Ford, in particular pregnant women and babies. ” said Jill Johnston.


Meredith Franklin, Khang Chau, Lara J. Cushing, and Jill E. Johnston, 2019. Characterizing Flaring from Unconventional Oil and Gas Operations in South Texas Using Satellite Observations.  Environmental Science & Technology, January, 2019 https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.est.8b05355

This research was supported by NIH/NIEHS R21ES028417.