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Annual Conference features timely discussions on air pollution and health


Some 170 experts from academia, government, industry, and nongovernmental organizations gathered in Chicago, Illinois, in late April and early May for HEI’s 32nd Annual Conference. The three-day meeting featured discussion of the latest research on air pollution and health, perspectives on historical and future environmental health policies, and many informal opportunities for attendees to meet and engage with others sharing similar interests.

Sanjay Rajagopalan, Case Western Reserve University, is greeted by HEI Research Committee member Barbara Hoffmann, University of  Düsseldorf, Germany. At left: HEI’s Managing Scientist Annemoon  van Erp and Director of Science Rashid Shaikh. For more pictures, see our Conference Photo Album

On Sunday, a pre-conference workshop on a current, widely debated topic — causal modeling in air pollution research and policy — generated lively discussion on the appropriate uses of causal inference methods, other ways to identify causal relationships between air pollution and health, and the challenges encountered in such research.

The main conference proceedings kicked off on Sunday afternoon with a series of wide-ranging presentations on ozone. Speakers examined international transport, climate change, and other contributors to regional ozone levels; they also provided a summary of recent epidemiological and clinical studies in the context of health assessment and the setting of the federal ozone standard. Talks by state and local air pollution control officials from Texas and Los Angeles examined how scientific knowledge and uncertainty inform state-level efforts to attain that limit.

On Sunday evening, HEI thanked Dave Eaton of the University of Washington for his eight years of excellent service as chair of the HEI Research Committee. Then keynote speaker Venkat Sumantran presented on “The Coming Urban Mobility Revolution” that will require new ways of thinking, including integration of a variety of urban transportation modes, to meet future challenges. Sumantran is chairman of Celeris Technologies and coauthor of the book Faster, Smarter, Greener: The Future of the Car and Urban Mobility. Using examples from his experiences throughout the world, he posited mobility as central to human civilization and the development of cities, and argued that urban mobility in the future would need “connected, heterogeneous, intelligent, and personalized” solutions.

Monday morning began with the introduction of expert panel members (see HEI Update, Spring 2018) for HEI’s new, updated review of the traffic and health literature, and a thoughtful discussion of the changing nature of traffic-related air pollution and knowledge gaps to be addressed in the review. Investigators in HEI’s new studies on traffic and health were introduced. In the next session, the mechanistic and epidemiological evidence of links between diabetes and air pollution in adults and children was discussed. A small but growing body of literature linking air pollution to Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes was presented.

After a poster session, the last session on Monday focused on issues related to reproducibility in environmental health sciences, particularly ensuring the quality of human health studies that underpin environmental regulations. This topic has received a great deal of attention in view of recent proposed policy changes announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Speakers and panelists clarified reproducibility-related concepts, study design, execution and analysis issues, and reproducibility of evidence from air pollution studies.

Tuesday morning opened with an update on HEI’s efforts to advance air quality, global health, and energy science. Incoming Research Committee Chair David Savitz of Brown University was welcomed; also introduced were the 2017 Walter A. Rosenblith New Investigator Award recipients. Other presentations reported on HEI’s core science programs in traffic-related air pollution, health effects at low ambient levels of air pollution, accountability, and mechanisms of health effects, as well as HEI’s Global Health Program. The launch and initial findings of the HEI Energy Research Program focusing on the effects of unconventional oil and gas development were announced.

The conference concluded with a discussion of the relationship between place and healthy urban living, with keynote speaker Sandro Galea and others discussing the interrelationships between green space, air pollution, transport planning, travel choice, and health.

The HEI Annual Conference 2018 program and all presentation slides are available at Next year’s conference is scheduled for May 5–7, 2019, at the W Seattle Hotel in Seattle, Washington. Registration and program information will be available in early 2019.