Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Off to the land of Holey Cheese

As I have mentioned before, next week I will be in Basel for the international environmental health conference, sponsored by the International Society of Environmental Epidemiology ISEE, International Society of Exposure Sciences ISES, and International Society of Indoor Air Quality ISIAQ.

I will be presenting on Thursday, one of several presentations and posters coming out of the Community Assessment of Freeway Exposure and Health (CAFEH) study (Doug Brugge, PI). This is a "big science" community based participatory research project funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The study included detailed assessment of air quality near I-93 in Boston and Somerville, and in comparison urban areas, using a mobile laboratory, to create a detailed model of exposure for individual locations; a survey of residents in the study area; and collection of actual biological information including blood samples from a sub-set of survey respondents.

My piece is a social science sub-study of risk perception. We asked people how concerned they were about air pollution in their neighborhood, and about pollution specifically from the highway; and whether they supported more or less government action to control pollution. We gave them various psychological and attitudinal scales that have been though to be related to risk perception, and we have a lot of other information about them including demographics, education, and even how much physical activity they engage in, smoking history, and you name it.

I'm basically supposed to wait till the conference presentation before I spill the beans on the results, but I will say a couple of things about the context. First of all, in case you didn't know it, living near a major highway or otherwise spending time near one is very bad for you. The principal danger is ultra-fine particle pollution -- unburned hydrocarbons come out of the tail pipes and condense, essentially forming hydrocarbon steam. The most numerous particles are extremely small -- much smaller in diameter than a human hair. If you breathe these in, they go right through your lungs into your bloodstream, and they can enter cells. They cause general inflammation, seem to contribute to atherosclerosis, and are an acute risk factor for myocardial infarction as well as chronic vascular disease.

And guess who lives near the highway? Disproportionately, low income and non-white people. It's a favorite place to build public housing projects, as a matter of fact, but private housing is obviously cheap there too. And this basic fact has been underappreciated, I think, in previous studies of risk perception. More in due course.

Any friends in Helvetia who want to do lunch or something, you have my e-mail.


Don Quixote said...


Have a great trip! Please bring me back a small souvenir :-)

Cervantes said...

Leather shorts with suspenders?