Dr. Rima Habre contributes to international panel on performance standards for low-cost air pollution sensors


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

In June 2018, USC Environmental Health Centers exposure assessment expert Rima Habre, ScD, contributed to a two-day workshop hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Habre discussed essential features, design recommendations and performance targets specifically for wearable personal PM2.5 deployed in health research studies to assess personal exposures and investigate relationships with health outcomes in population studies. Dr. Habre’s presentation discussed her work in the UCLA/USC Los Angeles PRISMS center led by Dr. Alex Bui (UCLA Medical Imaging Informatics) where researchers are developing a multi-sensor informatics platform to enable mHealth studies of pediatric asthma. The platform, called BREATHE (Biomedical REAl-Time Health Evaluation for Pediatric Asthma) allows researchers to monitor environmental exposures, behaviors, medications and symptoms using Bluetooth-enabled wearable sensors in real-time and in context, to ultimately help predict and prevent asthma attacks in children. Dr. Habre’s presentation focused on ‘real-life compatibility’ design and performance needs for low-cost PM2.5 sensors deployed as part of an informatics ecosystem, including flexible wear options, battery life, communication needs, but also calibration well-suited for mobile deployments on humans moving in and across microenvironments in daily life.

Proceedings from the meeting that focused on performance targets for low cost sensors that measure fine particulate matter and ozone, are summarized in a research paper of which Habre is a co-author, published in April 2019 in the Atmospheric Environment journal.

Williams, R., Duvall, R., Kilaru, V., Hagler, G., Hassinger, L., Benedict, K., Habre, R. … Ning, Z. (2019). Deliberating performance targets workshop: Potential paths for emerging PM2.5 and O3 air sensor progress. Atmospheric Environment: X, 2, 100031. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.AEAOA.2019.100031

For more information about the workshop, including links to all presentations, click here.

Learn more about Dr. Habre’s recent research here.

Children’s Health Study featured in new book

The following article on CityLab’s website, and can be read in full on the website. The article is an excerpt from the new book Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution (University of Chicago Press, $27.50).

How Scientists Discovered What Dirty Air Does to Kids’ Health

BETH GARDINER APRIL 22, 2019

The landmark Children’s Health Study tracked thousands of children in California over many years—and transformed our understanding of air pollution’s harms.

Across Southern California, in school gyms and libraries and lunchrooms, the children filed in, one by one, to put their lips around a plastic tube and blow with all their might. Thousands of them, year after year, in rich neighborhoods and poor ones, from the breezy towns along the Pacific coast to the hot, smoggy valley locals know as the Inland Empire.

Erika Fields was one of them, back in the 1990s, when she was in high school at Long Beach Poly, just outside Los Angeles. Even now, she’s the kind of person who raises her hand, who steps forward when volunteers are needed, and she liked being the only one called out of her class, walking down the hall to the quiet room where the breathing machine sat on a desk. She liked, too, the sense of being part of something bigger than herself, something that might really matter in the world.

In the empty classroom, the woman from the University of Southern California would hand her a sterile mouthpiece, attached by a tube to the spirometer ready to gauge the power of her lungs. Erika would give it a couple of practice puffs to get comfortable before the one that counted. “I remember her saying ‘Push, push, push. Blow all the air out.’ And then she would show me on her laptop, and I could see on a graph where I pushed the most,” and watch the line edge downward as her breath tailed off.

After that, there was a survey to fill out, a couple of pages about her health and her family, about smoking in the home and pets and diet and exercise, and then Erika would walk back down the hall, back to her classmates and the ordinary rhythms of the school day.

She didn’t know it then, but those brief, once-a-year interruptions to her routine helped lay the foundation for insights that would ultimately change scientists’ understanding of what air pollution does to the human body. In the vast stacks of accumulating numbers—results from Erika Fields’s breath tests and thousands of others— a team of patient researchers would discern the outlines of a threat that had, until then, been hard to see.

Photo/Courtesy of the South Coast Air Quality Management District

Ed Avol was one of those scientists. He grew up breathing the foul air of 1960s L.A., and he remembers well the hacking coughs that filled the playgrounds of his childhood. An engineer by training, he worked early in his career on hospital-based studies that examined the effects of dirty air as researchers had for decades, by pumping pollution into small rooms and watching volunteers exercise inside.

The team he was part of wasn’t allowed to make conditions in their smog chambers any worse than what Angelenos would experience outdoors, but in the 1980s that still gave them plenty of latitude. The researchers would monitor subjects as they pedaled, measuring their heart rates and oxygen levels, making note of their coughing, their shortness of breath, and their red, watery eyes.

By that time, it was clear to scientists that ozone—the main ingredient in the smog that still plagues L.A. and so many other cities—had an immediate effect on those who breathed it. And the impact could be far more serious than the discomfort Avol saw so plainly: When ozone blankets a city, asthmatics wheeze, emergency room visits spike, and even in healthy people, the lungs can grow inflamed and struggle to do their job.

Read the rest of this article, including more of the history of the Children’s Health Study, and interviews from CHS investigators including Ed Avol and Jim Gauderman here on CityLab’s website.

This article from CityLab is an excerpt from the new book Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution (University of Chicago Press, $27.50).

Work of SCEHSC member and UCLA researcher Beate Ritz featured in new book

The work of longtime Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center member and UCLA researcher Beate Ritz, will be featured in a chapter of an upcoming book, an excerpt was published recently in Environmental Health News, is found below.

Dirty air wreaks harm long before birth

BETH GARDINER, APRIL 29, 2019

The changes pollution inscribes in pregnancy haunt us not just during childhood, but throughout life

In chunky black glasses and a patterned scarf, her dark hair pulled back, Beate Ritz still looks more the sophisticated European than the casual Californian, even after decades in America.

Sunshine streams through a window into her home in the Santa Monica Mountains, above Los Angeles, as we speak on Skype, and she pours herself a cup of tea.

Ritz is an epidemiologist at UCLA, and she knows it can be nearly impossible to link one individual’s health problem to a specifc environmental cause. But the work that would shape her career began with a nagging, personal worry. The smog blanketing L.A. came as a foul shock when she arrived from her native Germany.

Los Angles skyline. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Read the rest of the article on Environmental Health News here.
The article is an excerpt from the new book Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution (University of Chicago Press, $27.50).

“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 national 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 national 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