Earthlab Vegetation Mitigation of Air Pollution – Drone Project Update at El Centro

We had a great community meeting (via Zoom!), hosted by El Centro de la Raza on Dec 5, 2020. The agenda included opening remarks by El Centro’s Maria Batayola and Estela Ortega, updates from US Congressman Adam Smith on federal activities regarding airport environmental impacts, an update from the UW-MOV research team on findings from the City of Seattle’s Air Pollution and Noise study measurements in Beacon Hill and new Earthlab Drone study of Vegetation Mitigation of Air Pollution using drone measurements and new study on improving the health of children by indoor air filtration at schools. Kris Johnson from Public Health Seattle King County provided an update on health profiling of airport communities, including work on birth effects. We finished with a great discussion of next steps for policy and planning.

Here are the slides we presented from the MOV-UP team.

Using drones to measure the relationship between urban air pollution, pollution sources, and vegetation in Seattle

Recent UW research that has identified high concentrations of ultrafine particle air pollution in some Seattle/King County communities has created an urgent need to evaluate the potential efficacy of community-scale air pollution mitigations, including the role that vegetation may play in reducing air pollution. Few studies have considered how trees and shrubs affect ultrafine air pollution, and most have focused on reductions in particles in the horizontal direction to the side of freeways from roadway traffic particle sources, rather than the distributions of particles in vertical and horizontal directions relevant to both roadway and aircraft-sourced particles. We have formed an interdisciplinary team of UW investigators, which includes expertise from Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Atmospheric Sciences to tackle this challenge and to fill this important knowledge gap for our local communities.

With new funding from UW Earthlab, and in partnership with air quality, health, and community stakeholders, we propose to conduct a study that will utilize an unoccupied aerial vehicle (UAV) – a drone instrumented with high-end air quality sensors, which will allow for efficient measurements at varying altitudes at sites identified by our partners that differ in vegetation density and type and proximity to ultrafine particle sources. Findings from this study will provide local and highly relevant evidence on the effectiveness of urban planning initiatives that may utilize greenery as an approach to address particulate air pollution. Additionally, the results would potentially inform future intervention studies that monitor air pollution changes that occur as a result of planting vegetation, which are starting to occur in cities across the country.

The Reasearch Team and Community Stakeholders on this project include:

Edmund Seto, UW Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences
Tim Larson, UW Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences and Civil & Environmental Engineering
David Shean, UW Civil & Environmental Engineering
Joel Thornton, UW Atmospheric Sciences

El Centro de la Raza
Puget Sound Clean Air Agency
WA Department of Ecology
WA Department of Health

My COVID-19 disease modeling findings for Washington State

Image from CDC

I recently fit the Washington state COVID-19 epidemiologic curves to both a SIR and SEIR dynamic disease model to address a few questions that I had about disease control. I developed the modeling in R Shiny, so that the models would be interactive allowing others to vary the assumptions to observe the results themselves. You can find the modeling tool here:

The website explores several questions, including:

  • How many people will be infected?
  • How does social distancing reduce transmission?
  • Does the timing of interventions matter?
  • How long do we need to keep doing interventions?
  • What is R0 vs. what is R?
  • Why we should be conducting seroprevalence testing?
  • What are the impacts of travel restrictions, school closures, social distancing, etc?

There are some interesting findings that I’m still exploring. For instance:

  • The more successfully we are in social distancing, the longer the delay in reaching peak infections.
  • Timing is very important.  It is less important to start early intervention as it is to time it just right to clip the peak of the infections when the force of infection is great.
  • Also with respect to timing, there is a risk of a double peak of infection if we stop interventions when there are still a large proportion of the community that is still susceptible. Based on my R0, the threshold for potentially having a double blip of infection is if there are more that 25% of the population that is still susceptible.

The code is publicly available on my github site:

Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map Reveals Racial and Income Environmental Injustice

Working our partners, we recently published analyses based on our Washington Environmental Health Disparities (WA EHD) Map.

There are a couple notable figures that reveal the relationships between race/ethnicity, income and cumulative environmental health risk in the state of Washington.



This first one shows that census tracts with a greater proportion of residents who are people of color tend to have higher environmental health disparity ranks — they’re more impacted by cumulative environmental health risks.




This second one shows that census tracts with higher income “ranking” — in other words have lower median incomes, tend to have higher environmental health disparity rankings.  Thus, lower income census tracts tend to be more impacted by cumulative environmental health risks.



To explore the interactive Environmental Health Disparities (WA EHD) Map, click on the map below:






To learn more about the WA EHD Map, visit:


New National Institute on Aging Grant to Use Wearable Sensors for Early Diagnosis of Dementia

Photo by Steven HWG on Unsplash

Our group is collaborating with the other researchers at the UW, Seattle VA Hospital, Cleveland Clinic, and the Mayo Clinic on a new study — Technology for Early Diagnosis of Dementia (TEDD) — to use sensor technologies to improve early diagnosis of Alzheimers Disease and Dementia with Lewy Bodies.  Early discimination of individuals on the trajectory to these two different diseases may lead more appropriate treatments to improve outcomes.

Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash

This work leverages our group’s previous work with wearable motion and physiologic sensors. In the current study we will be collaborating with experts in sleep monitoring and cognitive assessments.

The Principal Investigator, Dr. Debby Tsuang will lead this study funded by the NIH National Institutes of Aging.

The study will recruit participants from sites in different locations in the US, who have either Alzhiemer’s Disease or Dementia with Lewy Bodies, who will use a variety of sensors which will provide potential valuable data useful in disciminating the mobility, sleep, and other quality of life indicators of older adults who have these diseases. In a later phase of the study, we will use this information to examine a larger cohort of adults with mild cognitive impairment, and track the assocations between their cognitive decline over time and various sensor data.


New Kresge Foundation community-engagement grant to improve Climate Resilience in South King County communities

We are partnering with Seattle-based organizations Got Green and Front & Centered on a new grant from the Kresge Foundation that will work towards Climate Resilence Planning for South Seattle and South King County Communities.

This work builds off of previous collaborations that led to the the Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map.

The new grant aims to increase understanding of climate change impacts for communities of color, improve the readiness of communities of color to serve in an equitable way in city and county climate policies, and increase the capacity of communities of color to document and track vulnerabilities to cimate change.

My group at the UW looks forward to working with our parterns at Got Green and Front & Centered on this important work.

For more information, please contact the project lead, Got Green.

Research finds that community air monitoring helps identify more PM episodes than government monitoring alone

Establishing community-based air quality monitoring networks has largely focused on the benefits of engaging communities in environmental issues, building awareness of air quality-related impacts and environmental disparities. But, has such monitoring really improved our understanding of air quality?

This new paper from our group helps quantify the improved air quality information gained from next-generation community-based air monitoring. The research is based on a dense network of monitors that were established by a collaborative involving our research group and various partners in the Imperial Valley, California in 2016.  We observed that with approximately 10 times as many monitors as operated by government agencies in the region, we observed approximately 10 times as many PM2.5 episodes over a 5-month period.

The monitoring for this study is based on technologies and sensor calibration methods developed in our research group. Our group continues to conduct research and make improvements to our community air monitoring methods.  If interested in learning more about our low-cost monitoring projects in Imperial, San Ysidro/Tijiuana, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Baltimore, Winston-Salem please feel free to contact us. 

A new Map’t Microepidemics Spatial Analysis Tool

The “Microepidemics” study is examining the spatial-genetic clustering of HIV infections among males who have sex with other males (MSM) in Lima, Peru.

To address microepidemics we have been developing state of the art methods to identify recent infections, and treating these early infections as a way to prevent further spread of transmission.  We hypothesize the social venues, such as bars, clubs, saunas, etc., may be contributing to microepidemics.

Using a mobile testing van parked at popular venues in Lima, Peru, we have tested over 500 individuals, have identified more than 100 individuals with infection, and have referred them to treatment. This “treatment as prevention” strategy based on the current microepidemic situation can respond rapidly to ongoing changes in local transmission.

To help plan for “treatment as a prevention” strategies, we have developed the Map’t Microepidemics Spatial Analysis Tool.  This tool is not only useful for our HIV study — for example, to help target mobile testing at venues where there is high recent HIV infection among certain subpopulations (e.g., MSM, transgender women, sex workers, etc) — but can be used for other infectious disease applications where rapidly changing data are available on infection at specific sites that need to be quickly mapped to prioritize intervention activities.

The Map’t Microepidemics Spatial Analysis Tool is implemented as a web based tool, and is designed to be easily used by program staff with no experience in GIS or spatial analyses. It takes as input a site file, which has the locations of sites in the study area, and an observations file, which documents different levels of infection prevalence or incidence at observed at each site.  The tool allows staff to select which type of venue they’re interested in targeting, and which subpopulation group’s infection rate they want to prioritize.

The Map’t Microepidemics Spatial Analysis Tool is available for free public use here:

The Microepidemics study is a collaboration with Ann Duerr’s group at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Josh Herbeck’s group at the UW Department of Global Health, and Impacta in Peru. As a researcher with no previous HIV work, and a new collaborator, I am the Principal Investigator for the Microepidemics study — a NIH CFAR grant — which builds off of years of previous research conducted by Dr. Duerr’s group in Lima, including the ¿Sabes? study. 


Press on Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map

The Seattle Globalist
Could environmental justice be written into Washington state law?
By Kamna Shastri

The story behind a map. Collaborating for environmental justice

How polluted is your neighborhood? This new tool will tell you
By Manola Secaira

The Seattle Times
New Washington map shows why environmental health is a justice issue; see the risks in your area
By Tyrone Beason

Ever wonder if your neighborhood is making you sick? Use this new tool to find out
By Kamna Shastri

Northwest Public Broadcasting
New Map Shows Hotspots Of Environmental Health Hazards For Washington Neighborhoods
By Esmy Jimenez

Launch of the Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map

In collaboration with Front and Centered, Washington State Department of Health, Washington State Department of Ecology, and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, today we launched the Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map.

The map is an interactive tool that utliizes up-to-date statewide environmental datasets and population measures in order to rank communities with respect to cumulative environmental risk.  The map provides new insights into health inequities at the neighborhood level to help shape state priorities and funding decisions.

Data on multiple environmental indicators are combined in the online tool to show a cumulative score for each of the 1,458 US Census tracts in the state. The tool is hosted by the state Department of Health through its Washington Tracking Network, and is available at:

Indicators were chosen based on input from community listening sessions that were held across the state.  While data may not exist for all the indicators requested by attendees of the the listening sessions, the environmental health disparities map is meant to be dynamic, and evolve as new data become available.

The tool is meant to be solutions-oriented. Regardless of whether you’re a concerned resident, community leader and organizer, responsible government agency – having a better understanding of the environmental conditions in your community, and the people that are most affected by poor environmental quality – should lead to more informed priorities and focused strategies to improve environmental health.

While the map makes it easy for you to quickly compare the cumulative impact scores between different census tracts, I invite you to dig a bit deeper. Focus in on where you live, work, and play. Explore the various indicators that make up a score for your community. Examine how these indicators jive with what you know and your experience. And think about what needs to be done to be make environmental conditions better!

A report describing the methods and data used by the mapping tool can found here.

A policy brief for the tool can be found here.