About Edmund

Edmund Seto is Associate Adjunct Professsor of Environmental Health Sciences in the School of Public Health and the University of California at Berkeley. He serves as Associate Faculty Director of the health care initiative for the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS).

Working towards an Environmental Justice Map for Washington State

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences are working with Washington Department of Health’s Environmental Public Health Tracking Program, Front and Centered, and other organizations to create an environmental justice map for the state of Washington.  The map aims to incorporate the best available statewide data on environmental pollution and population vulnerability at the community level.  The work is informed by listening sessions held across te state aimed at understanding what pollution concerns exist for different communities, and how it affects the lives of those who live in these communities.

To learn more about the project visit the project website:
https://deohs.washington.edu/washington-state-environmental-justice-mapping-project

One of the main leads on the project, doctoral student, Esther Min is currently seeking input on the development of the first draft of this map. 

As the project evolves, I’ll post additional articles documenting the challenges and opportunities we’ve faced in developing the EJ map.

 

An Unfair Share: Climate Change Hits Some Harder Than Others

In the Pacific Northwest, it’s easy to take environmental quality — our clean air, water, and soil — for granted. And with abundant natural and human resources, and a booming economy in Washington, doesn’t the future look bright?

But, let’s not forget that the science is clear: our climate is changing, and climate change threatens environmental quality and the health of people in Washington State. Climate change will affect some more than others. Race, income, language, location, and employment are some of the key factors that determine who are most vulnerable to the health effects of climate change. 

With support from the Seattle Foundation, researchers at the University of Washington collaborated with Front and Centered to better identify the impacts of climate change on the health of communities of color.  More than a literature review and data analysis, an effort was made to listen to communities across the state to understand and document their experiences and concerns about climate change and exposures to pollution that could result from a changing environment.

The result of this work is a new report: An Unfair Share.  The report highlights the health risks faced by some of our most vulnerable workers, such as those employed in agriculture, construction, and fisheries. The report also hightlights how geography, and living in lowland areas, wildland/urban interfaces, or urban areas, each bears different risks with climate change.

The report identifies important knowledge gaps that can hopefully motivate new research that can lead to improved preparedness and resiliance in communities of color that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Read the full report here: bit.ly/unfairsharereport
and let’s work for climate justice!

 

The Beacon Hill Noise Team — Community Scientists Quantify Noise Pollution in Seattle

Thanks to a community microgrant from the Verity Credit Union this summer, we were able to kickstart the Beacon Hill Noise Study.

Over the last year, I have been hearing from residents of the Beacon Hill community in Seattle, about noise issues.  Beacon Hill is surrounded by freeways and major thoroughfares, and has airplane traffic at SeaTac flying overhead.  The community is struggling to address the noise pollution.

In the Summer of 2017, with considerable community support and encouragement, we applied for, but were unsuccessful in obtaining funding from the Pacific Hospital Preservation and Development Authority Nimble Fund.  This was very disappointing news for the residents.

Although discouraged by the results of the PHPDA proposal, we wrote an announcement to the community, which was distributed via social media in the Fall of 2017. In the announcment, we asked if people with specific skills would be willing to donate their own time to become “community scientists” to conduct a noise assessment study.  Serious about forming an effective research team, we recruited residents with particular skills, including leadership, organizing, project management, field work, data analysis, and communication. We formed a small group in the Winter of 2017-18, and using one noise monitor that I donated to the group, we started the Beacon Hill Noise Study.

“Citizen science” has been an effective strategy for gathering environmental data for research. Whereas these efforts are usually structured so that lay people (citizen scientists) help traditional academic scientists collect data, our approach towards “community science” emphasizes the role of community members as scientists, with only academics providing advice.

The recent community microgrant from the Verity Credit Union (with Beacon Hill Merchants Association as our fiscal sponsor) allowed us to purchase additional monitors for the study. We also recently received a grant from the US EPA (through the community-based organization El Centro de la Raza), which has allowed us to hire two part-time student interns from the University of Washington this Summer 2018 to help residents collect noise measurements. Both our interns are undergraduate students studying in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences.

Beacon Hill Noise Team Student Interns

As a resident-led study without its own organization, we have been fortunate to be able to work with other established community organizations to raise funds.  Moreover, because of tremendous volunteer effort, the costs associated with collecting noise measurements has been quite modest.  A decent noise monitor and calibrator can be purchased for a few hundred dollars.  With the modest funding we have raised thus far, we have collected nearly 300 MB of noise data with 2 noise monitors.

Our goal is collect 24-hour noise measurements at outdoor locations throughout Beacon Hill. So far we have approximately 60 residents who have signed up, with interest in having noise measurements collected at their home.

As we continue to collect data and compute noise summary measures, such as 24-hour LEQ, LDN, and LDEN dBA levels, we intend to make these results publically available via an open access license. Our initial goals are modest, as we simply want to collect sufficient data to have a meaningul discussion about appropriate next steps for the study.  However, as we progress, we hope that the data may help connect residents with other nosie pollution stakeholders to move towards collective action to educate and build awareness, conduct futher research, and identify strategies for reducing noise pollution.

For more information about the project, contact Dr. Roseanne Lorenzana at contact@chacusa.org

 

Bitesome Team presents diet and nutrition tracking app at NIH mHealth Technology Showcase

Team Bitesome

The new Bitesome diet and nutrition tracking app was presented at the NIH mHealth Tech Showcase on June 4, 2018.

Part of the NIH MD2K initiative, the Tech Showcase highlighted recent advances in mHealth technologies and methods.

https://mhealth.md2k.org/2018-tech-showcase-home

Our poster illustrated the architecture of our app, and usage of cloud services, and real-time databases specifically, for managing large numbers of users.  We also document our use of food database API for nutritient content information.

Bitesome is currently available for use on the Android and iOS stores.  Visit the Bitesome.mobi website to learn more about the app.

PDF of our poster Research Symposium Poster FINAL_small

 

Imperial study influences passage of AB 617 for Community Air Monitoring in California

As the NIEHS-funded research to establish a network of community-operated PM monitors in Imperial, CA comes to an end this year, efforts have been made to ensure the sustainability of the network.

The team was recognized by the CA State Assembly and Senate on April 26th for the work in Imperial.  Also the work has influenced AB 617, a new rule which was approved by the state legislature in 2017, which requires air districts to implement community and fenceline air monitoring in communities that are classified as highly disadvantaged based on their environmental exposures and impacts as well as social disparities.

Whereas my research group at UW was involved in the development of the network, and managing QA/QC of the data from the monitors during the study, we have transitioned our knowledge of the monitoring to Comite Civico del Valle, who are currently sustaining the monitoring network and are in charge of the data.

 

US EPA meeting to discuss performance targets for non-regulatory air quality sensors

Over 800 people participated in the June 25-26, 2018 US EPA Air Sensors 2018 meeting, in which performance targets for non-regulatory air quality sensors were discussed.

In recent years, the use of low-cost sensors has grown considerably. Yet, the quality associated with these sensors is not fully known, or is highly variable between different makes/models of sensor, and depends greatly on how the sensors are operated.  Would the establishment of performance targets potential improve the quality of low-cost air quality sensors for non-regulatory applications?

The European Union has made great strides recently to evaluate and form a working group to establish performance targets for air quality sensors.

The US EPA meeting, presentations highlighted recent studies that describe the (good) performance that has been found with current particle matter sensors and ozone sensors, which has allowed for them to be used in a variety of studies and use cases.

In my presentation on “apples to apples vs apples to oranges performance testing”, I first discussed the relative merits of controlled laboratory testing of sensors, which would allow for consistent testing conditions, easy third party verification of testing results, and potentially less uncertain, lower cost, and timely results, and “apples to apples” comparisons between sensor makes/models.  Next, I discussed the importance of field testing in real-world applications that present numerous practical challanges for manufacturers, yet provides reassurance for users that sensors would likely work under real-world scenarios. These field tests would acknowleddge that different use cases in different field settings offer a challenges “apples to oranges” variety of conditions.  If sensors are able to perform well under such challenging and varied testing conditions, they’d likely be useful for non-regulatory applications.

On the 3rd day, smaller panel deliberated the relative merits of sensor evaluation, performance targets, binary vs tiered certification, and other issues.  We are working on a document that would provide summarize some of the perspectives we have on the subject.

Bitesome – a new diet and nutrition-tracking app for public health research

Our group is finishing a new diet and nutrition-tracking app called Bitesome.  Similar to the many diet-tracking apps that already exist for smartphones, the new app allows people to track the foods they each. But, somewhat differently, Bitesome tracks numerous factors that help public health and nutrition scientists better understand the context the underlies diet.

Bitesome utilizes sensors on the smartphones to better understand dietary context.  This includes, GPS, motion, and camera data.  Not only can researchers see when and where meals occur, but the nutritional content of each food item, query the neighborhood food environment, observe the physical activity that occurred before and after meals, etc.

Moreover, to better support science, researchers can access real-time Bitesome data from participants enrolled in research studies using a secure web portal.  The website will support researchers by providing data reports for subjects in the study.

Bitesome is currently undergoing testing.  The app will be available for iOS iPhones and Android smartphones in early 2018, starting with deployment in the ENACTS hypertension intervention study in Seattle — a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health, which is focused on minority health disparities.

The new Bitesome app builds upon previous smartphone app development in our research group, including past and ongoing studies that have used our CalFit smartphone app.

 

NIH NIEHS Partnerships for Environmental Public Health Webinar on Community Air Sensors

The National Institutes of Health’s NIEHS Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH) program has long been a champion for community-engaged environmental health research.  Today’s webinar highlights the progress of two ongoing projects. PEPH’s description of the webinar is below:

 

Description

Residents in communities across the country are often curious or concerned about the quality of the air they breathe and how it may affect their health or the health of family and friends. While many locations have air monitors, those monitors are sometimes not in communities of concern. With the advent of smaller, low-cost sensors, residents have become increasingly engaged in monitoring the air quality in their neighborhoods so as to understand and reduce potential health risks.

This webinar will highlight two community-based air monitoring projects. The first is a collaboration among the California Environmental Health Tracking Program (a partnership of the California Department of Public Health and the Public Health Institute); the Comite Civico Del Valle Inc.; the University of Washington; the University of California, Los Angeles; and George Washington University. The second is a partnership between the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Fairmount Greenway Task Force. The presenters will discuss their approaches, the benefits of those approaches, and future opportunities.

Presentations

The Imperial County Community Air Monitoring Network: A Model for Community-Based Environmental Monitoring for Public Health Action

Paul English, Ph.D., California Department of Public Health
Michelle Wong, California Department of Public Health
Edmund Seto, Ph.D., University of Washington
Luis Olmedo, Comite Civico del Valle

Wheels on the Ground: Citizen Science and the Fairmount Greenway

Ann Backus, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Traci Brown, Ph.D., Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Michelle Moon, Fairmount Greenway Task Force

If interested, there should be a recording of the webinar on PEPH’s website:
https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/translational/peph/webinars/index.cfm 

WA State Airport Community Air Quality Study

Sea-Tac airplane. Photo by Paul B. https://flic.kr/p/d8Er5u

As the population has grown in Seattle, so too has air traffic at the Sea-Tac International Airport.  According to the Port of Seattle’s statistics for 2016, over 45 million passengers traveled through Sea-Tac. These numbers are up 52% over historical passenger numbers from just 10 years ago.

Increasing air traffic has long been a concerned of residents in neighboring communities.  In particular, residents have been alarmed by the findings of recent studies conducted in other airport communities around the country that have documented elevated ultrafine PM levels along the flight paths near airports, such as LAX.  Yet, because no two airports are the same with respect to how planes land and take-off, the numbers of aircraft that fly in and out, meteorological conditions, local terrain, background air pollution levels, and where people live in relationship to flight paths, extrapolating from others studies to the Seattle context is challenging.

To address this concern and to provide much needed local data, over the next two years, the University of Washington will measure ultrafine PM concentrations in communities within a 10-mile region north and south of Sea-Tac.  The goal of this study will be to identify the extent to which ultrafine PM levels are elevated above background levels of PM.  This includes trying to differentiate aircraft-related PM from the other predominant sources of PM in the area, which include roadway traffic and wood smoke.

Measurements will be collected using a state-of-the-art mobile monitoring platform — a University of Washington car outfitted with high-end air monitoring instruments that can measure the size distribution and counts of ultrafine particles.  This vehicle will traverse the study area throughout the year, allowing the research team to map ultrafine PM levels, and relate the air pollution to varying amounts of air traffic and other factors that may affect ultrafine PM concentrations.

Identifying whether elevated ultrafine PM levels exist in communities around Sea-Tac airport is the first phase of a potentially broader investigation of exposures to aircraft-related pollution and its health effects.  A final report documenting this first phase will be delivered in December 2019.

To learn more about this study, feel free to contact the study leads:

Professor Edmund Seto, eseto@uw.edu
Professor Timothy Larson, tlarson@uw.edu

Historical Sea-Tac Passenger Volumes. https://public.tableau.com/profile/portofseattlebi#!/vizhome/Sea-TacAirportActivityReportTP/Cover

Update 9/28/2017:  A resident near the airport emailed me, noting that while passenger volume has trended up, flight operations peaked in 2000.  If you’d like to explore the data, they are available at: https://public.tableau.com/profile/portofseattlebi#!/vizhome/Sea-TacAirportActivityReportTP/Cover

 

 

San Ysidro Air Study launches website for real-time air quality monitoring data

The San Ysidro Air Study will be unveiling its new website on June 9, 2017 in an Open House event hosted by study collaborator, Casa Familiar.

This 2-year study funded by CalEPA Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) aims to improve community understanding of air quality at the US-Mexico border region through a community-engaged research process of collecting measurements from 13 next-generation air quality monitors.

The research team includes Casa Familiar, San Diego State University, and the University of Washington.  To learn more about this study, visit the study website, which has webinars, community meeting notes, and links to news stories: http://deohs.washington.edu/san-ysidro-air-quality-and-border-traffic-study

Our new website will provide residents and government agencies in San Ysidro with real-time air quality data in the form of maps and charts.  PM2.5, CO, NO, NO2, and O3 data will be available.  Also, concerned citizens and researchers may request access to historical data collected by the air quality monitoring network via the website.

Additionally, data from the San Ysidro monitoring are being provided to the Identifying Violations Affecting Neighborhoods (IVAN) system for integrated air mapping and environmental reporting among different communities in California.

Our new San Ysidro Air Study data portal is http://www.syairstudy.org.