Air, Climate and Community Health Take Center Stage at 2018 NC BREATHE

Mar 20, 2018

As the saying goes, “Dose makes the poison.”

Kim Lyerly, M.D., of Duke University illustrated this adage in his opening talk. Lyerly noted that people breathe an average of 30 pounds of air a day, but only ingest four to five pounds of water. In other words, people breathe a lot of air each day, so a little air pollution can have a large health impact. Lyerly along with his co-presenter, Julia Kravchenko, Ph.D., M.D., then discussed the results of their study showing the economic and health benefits of clean air policies. You can review the full presentation on the NC BREATHE website.

On Thursday, March 8, academics, students, medical and health professionals, state, federal and local environmental agencies and community groups gathered at the 2018 NC BREATHE conference hosted by Clean Air Carolina at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. The conference opened with a series of keynotes considering how air quality affects human health, the environment, and the economy.

In the second keynote of the morning, Wayne Cascio, M.D., of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Lauren Thie, M.S.P.H. of the N.C. Division of Public Health shared their work on wildland fires in North Carolina. Thie’s smoke vulnerability map was of particular interest. It showed the sensitivity to wildfire smoke and access to air quality data of different counties across N.C. The U.S. Forest Service has been working with Thie in Hoke County to develop better ways to communicate smoke, health issues, and practical information. Bryan Hubbell, Ph.D., of EPA finished the morning session by discussing how to quantify the costs and benefits of air pollution and health.

After lunch, the attendees reconvened in breakout sessions to discuss how to involve vulnerable communities in research; how to improve the quality and access to air and health data; and how to include health impact analysis in policymaking. While there were many takeaways from the sessions, the key outcomes were discussed during the final session with Brian Southwell, Ph.D. All three breakout sessions noted the importance of citizen science and local air quality monitoring.

“Citizen science is powerful from a conversation standpoint with lawmakers,” relayed Steve Wall, J.D., who moderated the health impacts analysis in policymaking session.

Liam O’Fallon, M.A., who moderated the engaging vulnerable communities session said, “There is a bias that the community collected data isn’t at the same level as the professionally collected information….[but] that’s not always true.” This breakout session discussed the importance of researchers and community groups working together and understanding overall needs and goals to get “meaningful measurements” as Gayle Hagler, Ph.D., who moderated the air and health data session said.

All three sessions indicated that citizen science is important to help communities, researchers, and policymakers, but how the data is collected and used is crucial to making the measurements useful.

Before the conference closing remarks, Ellen Kirrane, Ph.D., of the EPA presented the student research poster awards to Jordan Baker from N.C. State University for his poster “Can AERMOD Accurately Predict Ammonia Concentrations in Areas of Heavy Agricultural Production?” and Theophraste Noussi from N.C. Central University for his poster “Impacts of Land Use Practice, Traffic Patterns, and Human Activities on Air Quality in a Local Durham Community, North Carolina.” To learn more about the award-winning posters, please read their abstracts in the conference program.

June Blotnick, M.Ed., closed the conference with a few reflections on the day and noted the possibility of a environmental justice theme or keynote for next year. A conference report is in preparation that will cover the conference themes and outcomes and be shared with attendees, policymakers, researchers and community members.