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

 

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.

 

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

 

 

New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of… Get’s our latest generation of Community Air Monitors

We’re installing our latest generation of Internet-connected community air monitors (PM particle sizer, 4 gas pollutants) this week in New York City as part of a new MESA study of cardiovascular health led by PI Joel Kaufman at the Unversity of Washington.

Special thanks to PhD student Graeme Carvlin for leading the team of undergrads that are building our current batch of monitors that will be installed in the 6 MESA cities this year, as well as the deployment team and our local collaborators in each of the cities.

These new monitors will enable the next generation of air pollution exposure assessments for multi-city epemiologic studies that are based on real-time, continous spatiotemporally rich environmental data.

CalFit for the European PHENOTYPE Study

The European PHENOTYPE study is investigating the relationship between the natural environment and human health and wellbeing. The study led by Mark Nieuwenhuijsen at ISGlobal (previously CREAL) aims to explore people’s exposures to greenspace through the use of a variety of assessment methods.

One approach that was used in a subset of approximately 400 PHENOTYPE study subjects in four European countries was an Android smartphone app.  The app, CalFit was developed by my research group explicitly for exposure assessment studies. The app tracks time-location patterns using GPS and physical activity using accelerometry.  Different versions of the CalFit app were developed to fit the needs of different environmental health studies, including studies in the US and in China.  For the PHENOTYPE study an Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) module was developed that asked study subjects to answer occasional questions about their affective state (e.g., stress, happiness, etc.) in different environments. The EMA also prompts subjects to collect videos of their surroundings.

The app was designed for Android version 2.3.6, and was only deployed on Samsung Galaxy Y study phones. Since development of the CalFit app was carried out a few years ago, no testing on current generation Android phones has been done, and it is unclear whether the app still operates as designed with newer versions of Android or newer phones.  The app is available here, without support and with minimal documentation:

CalFit Program v20130716 with Dutch, English, Lithuanian, and Spanish PHENOTYPE surveys

While CalFit is no longer being supported, my group is developing a new app from scratch to leverage the current capabilities of smart devices. It will be released under a new name, and with a new focus not only on environmental exposure assessment, but on behavioral health.  Look for this new app to be used in the NIH “Native-Controlling Hypertension and Risk Through Technology (NATIVE-CHART)” study led by Dedra Buchwald at Washington State University.

If you have interest in using the new app, please contact me: Edmund Seto eseto@uw.edu

 

New Study Predict How Much A Person Will Eat From Smartphone Data

Increasingly smartphones are being used be people to log various aspects of their life. Recently my group published a paper in which we analyzed data from individuals’ smartphones, to see whether we could model their dietary patterns. Rather than compare across people, we focused on the patterns that exist for specific individuals. We examined whether the portion size for each person’s meal tended to followed a routine based on time of day, whether the portion size was related to how much physical activity they engaged in before the meal, or whether the their “food environment” — the quantity, diversity, and types of food establishments around them — influenced the portion size. We also looked at the person’s mood to see it influenced their meals. All of these data were collected from a smartphone app we developed (voice-annotated video recording of meals, accelerometry for physical activity, GPS for food environments, and occasional prompts to ask about mood).

What we found was fascinating. In some cases, certain individuals exhibited fairly routine eating patterns, while for other individuals, exercise before the meal was an important factor in determining their portion sizes. However, we were surprised to find that across all of the subjects, the food environment tended to be an important factor for explaining portion sizes.

This study was based on data from a fairly small group of test subjects who were only monitored over a short period of time, but we now have hundreds of gigabytes of similar data for which we will be doing the same sort of analyses.

The work provides an early glimpse of our ability to integrate various different sorts of sensor, self-report data, contextual data to model specific individuals behavioral patterns.  Moving forward, we are interested in evaluating how well these models work for prediction, and eventual use for tailoring behavioral interventions to specific individuals to help them live healthier lives.

This study was recently published in the journal PLoS ONE: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0153085

 

New Study to Develop Environmental Exposure Monitoring for Pediatric Asthma

My group at UW was awarded a $2M grant to work with the National Institutes of Health on a new program called Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems (PRISMS).  The goal of this program is the “development of wearable and non-wearable sensors that can monitor pediatric environmental exposures, physiological signals, activity, and/or behavior in a natural environment to gain new insights into environmental determinants of asthma.”

This new grant will bring together researchers at UW in the Environmental Health Sciences, Pediatrics, and Engineering to develop a new environmental exposure monitoring system for PRISMS.  Research partners include Professors Novosselov, Posner, Korshin, Mamishev, Yost and Karr. The study will test the system for use in the HAPI asthma intervention study in Yakima, WA.

Close to 1 in 10 children in the U.S. suffer from asthma.  Children who have asthma are prone to acute exacerbations of airway inflammation (asthma “attacks”) that may be triggered by numerous environmental exposures, including infectious agents, pollens, smoke, mold, chemicals, etc.  The morbidity associated with children’s asthma is large. Asthma is the third most common cause for child hospitalization for those less than 15 years old. It is a leading cause of school absenteeism.  And, there are large public health disparities associated with asthma: those that are poor, and of certain races and ethnicities are more likely to suffer from asthma.  Through the technologies developed in the PRISMS program, improved understanding of the relationship between exposures and asthma symptoms may help researchers and asthmatic families manage the disease better.