The World Health Organization has identified air pollution as a major threat to human health.
The Breath and Depth of Solutions
The UNC Institute for the Environment has joined forces with UNC’s school of medicine and public health to become an international leader in efforts to improve air quality and public health.
One example: In partnership with the U.S. EPA, scientists in our Center for Environmental Modeling for Policy Development have created a Web tool that enables local policymakers to plug various scenarios into Google Maps to predict the impact of transportation emissions on their communities. Examples include the health implications of widening a road or building a school near a major highway.
“We have about 45 million people who live near a major highway in the U.S. We needed a tool to assess exposure risk patterns for people who live next to roadways. Children are more vulnerable to air pollution, and there are two million school children living within 200 meters of a major highway.” said Dr. Sarav Arunachalam.
In addition to creating tools to inform public policy, we train scientists throughout the world on how to use air quality modeling to study the formation, transport and health effects of air pollution. These models help scientists to aid the public in areas like emissions and storm surge predictions.
At the UNC Institute for the Environment, we are working to improve air quality across the world. We invite you to join us as we continue to make progress on a global scale.
From the Outside in
Pollution has dire consequences for human health. A new campus collaboration funded by the National Institutes of Health is bringing together data science, environmental science and precision medicine to revolutionize how doctors treat patients with conditions that can be aggravated by environmental factors. For our part, UNC Institute for the Environment scientists have developed modeling software that gives researchers access to 50 environmental pollution measures while incorporating key variables such as season, time of day, wind direction and atmospheric stability. One of the goals of the research is to determine if these tools will reduce the readmission rates of high-risk patients, thereby lowering health-care costs.
“It is incumbent upon us in academe to demonstrate and prove the hypothesis that clean energy and sustainability and improved health is not just economically viable, it is economically necessary,” said Dr. David B. Peden, interim director of the institute. “It will be a revenue driver. At the end of the day, we have to solve problems that are meaningful. Environmental impact on health is an extraordinarily meaningful problem.”
Dr. Peden’s colleagues at the Institute for the Environment, Dr. Adel Hanna and Dr. Sarav Arunachalam, also are lending their expertise to the project, which, in addition to Dr. Peden, is co-led by Dr. Stanley Ahalt, director of UNC’s Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI).