International Society of Exposure Science Conference Focused on Community Engagement

Nov 3, 2017

While the parents are waiting in “kiss and go” lanes to drop off their kids, their cars idle. Matthew Adams from the University of Toronto wanted to know if this caused a significant increase in the particulate matter at schools. ISES1

After surveying the cars at various schools around Hamilton, Ontario, Adams’ research group used the simulation of urban mobility (SUMO) model to estimate the particulate matter levels during the drop off time. The model results did not show a concerning increase in particulate matter. The next steps are to take real-time measurements using air quality monitors. A key takeaway from Adams’ work is that people’s behavior change when you place monitors at the schools, so his team needs to figure out a way to acclimate the parents to the monitors. Adams presented his work at the International Society of Exposure Science (ISES) conference.

ISES held its annual conference from October 15-19 in Durham, NC, where over 700 participants this year’s theme “Integrating Exposure Science Across Diverse Communities.” Several Medical Advocates for Healthy (MAHA) and Clean Air Carolina members were in attendance including NC BREATHE planning committee members Viney Aneja and Dan Costa as well as Clean Air Carolina program managers Calvin Cupini and Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky.

Conference sessions varied across the exposure field from perfluorinated compounds in drinking water to noise barriers reducing particulate matter to communicating exposure results to communities. All sessions related back to the conference theme, including the three-part session “Social Determinants of Health, Environmental Exposures, and Disproportionately Impacted Communities: What We Know and How We Tell Others.” This series looked at different exposure studies and how the results were communicated to the stakeholders.

“It is better to work with communities than to work on them,” said Rachelle Begay during her talk about environmental exposures in tribal communities with Melissa Gonzales from the University of New Mexico.

Jill Johnston from the University of Southern California quoted a community member, “If I can’t see it and can’t smell it, it isn’t really a concern to me.” Johnston discussed the difficulty of explaining health impacts from air pollution exposure when it is not apparent to the community.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) hosted a session on “Methods for Assessing Exposure to Air Pollutants in Diverse Communities.” Speakers discussed conducting exposure investigations and reporting results back to communities. The investigations ranged from historical contaminations to ongoing exposures.


Debra Gable presented her work with the Yakama reservation located near several large animal feeding operations. The local community contacted the regional Environmental Protection Agency office, who directed them to Gable at ATSDR. Gable conducted an investigation and measured fine particulate matter (PM2.5), hydrogen sulfate and ammonia levels around the community.

“You have to develop a trust relationship” with the community by giving “everyone the same information at the same time,” said Gable about working with the community and reporting results of her investigation. By building this trust with the community Gable was able to help the community improve their air quality.

The Wednesday morning plenary highlighted the importance of science communication beyond peer-reviewed journals. Brian Southwell, RTI International, spoke about the need for scientists to engage in different communication strategies such as opinion editorials, social media and radio shows to “make the discussion of science normal.”

The next ISES annual conference will be held in conjunction with the International Society of Environmental Epidemiologists (ISEE) in Ottawa, August 26-30. The 2018 Joint ISES-ISEE meeting will bring together scientific experts and practitioners from academia, government, industry, and non-governmental organizations dedicated to the protection of health and environment.