Thanks for visiting my website. I am an Assistant Professor in Environmental and Occupational Health at University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. As an interdisciplinary Environmental Health Scientist, my training and experience lie predominantly in air pollution exposure assessment and environmental epidemiology, but my interests also include occupational health, social epidemiology, community-based research, and toxicology.
My research focuses primarily on the role of chronic social stressors in modifying population susceptibility to air pollution, in both community and occupational settings. For example, one of my earliest studies identified a heightened association between modeled estimates of traffic-related air pollution exposures and asthma onset among children exposed to violence (Clougherty et al., Environ Health Perspect 2007). This interaction is biologically plausible because a large suite of research links chronic stress to alterations in immune and endocrine function – potentially shaping the individual’s responsivity to a wide range of environmental toxins.
Because social stressors and pollution exposures may be highly confounded across urban communities, I worked with colleagues in Physiology at the Harvard School of Public Heath to repeat this study in animals, where clear exposure assignment could better differentiate effects of pollution by stress group. We found a stronger respiratory response to concentrated particulate air pollution among chronically stressed Sprague-Dawley rats (Clougherty et al., Environ Health Perspect 2010).
To better disentangle social and physical environmental exposures in the real world, I use methods for modeling fine-scale air pollution exposure contrasts across urban communities. The technique, referred to as land-use regression (LUR), can be combined with source apportionment methods to examine exposures to specific metals constituents across urban space (Clougherty et al., Atmos Env, 2010), and with spatial modeling of social stressors to identify sensitive populations.
Before joining the faculty at Pitt, I worked with the City of New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to collect and analyze year-round measures of fine particles and metals constituents, elemental carbon, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and ozone at 150 sites throughout NYC, as part of the New York City Community Air Survey (NYCCAS). We developed predictive LUR models to explore exposure variability across a large urban population (sample exposure surfaces for PM2.5 and nickel below), towards improving source-specific intra-urban epidemiology, communicating information about air pollution exposures to diverse communities, and improving City environmental policy. A full study description and publicly-available reports accessible at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/eode/nyccas.shtml.
Maps created by Grant Pezeshki, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Building on the NYCCAS work, we recently obtained an EPA STAR grant, in collaboration with colleagues at West Harlem Environmental Action (WE Act), Summit Research Associates (SRA), Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and New York University (NYU). This study examines spatial correlations among urban social stressors – such as housing violations, poor access to medical care, and noise disruption (these examples shown below) -- and associations with air pollution exposures across NYC. The combination of unique data available on intra-urban variation in air pollution exposures, and extensive data on social stressors and respiratory hospitalizations, provides the unique opportunity to examine spatial correlations across multiple exposures, and differential susceptibility to air pollution by social stressors, across a large and diverse U.S. city.
Maps created by Jessie L. Carr, University of Pittsburgh and NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Preliminary analyses from the EPA STAR work suggest that social stressors are not uniformly distributed across urban communities, and are not consistently spatially correlated with poverty. Likewise, social stressors do not uniformly track with air pollution, as several high air pollution neighborhoods do not display high values in these susceptibility-related social stressors (and vice-versa). Finally, preliminary analyses suggest that patterns of childhood hospitalizations for asthma across NYC may track more closely with indicators of susceptibility (stressors) than with ambient air pollution. Looking forward, we will conduct focus groups and a citywide survey to begin to validate common indicators community stressors and understand their relationship with individual-level stress experience.
To illustrate the possible relationship among chronic stressors, pollution, and asthma, we show the three maps below. Note that neighborhoods with high rates of emergency department visits for childhood asthma (in map 3) may be those with a combination of air pollution (map 1) and stressors/ susceptibility factors (map 2)
Maps created by Grant Pezeshki and Jessie L. Carr, University of Pittsburgh and NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Finally, I have a recently-awarded K-01 from NIOSH, which is designed to explore potential synergies between social and physical exposures in occupational settings, by focusing on noise as a chronic workplace stressors and consequent susceptibility to workplace airborne contaminant exposures. This work is being performed as part of the Alcoa Aluminum Manufacturer’s study, in collaboration with colleagues at Yale, Berkeley, and Stanford. We have been working together for over three years to understand health effects of workplace contaminants and job strain across 51,000 blue- and white-collar U.S. aluminum manufacturing employees.
As a new faculty member at Pitt, I am looking forward to developing new studies on the grounds here in Pittsburgh, and learning from new colleagues in this rich intellectual environment. Notably, with Fernando Holguin, M.D., and colleagues at UPMC, we are requiting a new cohort of asthmatic children living in and around Braddock, PA. We hope to better understand patterns of asthma exacerbation in this community, as influenced by both environmental and social factors, towards improving children’s health and well-being in this community.