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Future challenges, diverse expertise at HEI Annual Conference


Marie Pedersen and Monica GuxensPictured: Walter A. Rosenblith New Investigators Marie Pedersen (2017 award recipient, left), of the University of Copenhagen, and Mònica Guxens (2016), Barcelona Institute for Global Health. During the conference, HEI presented the 2018 Rosenblith award and three Travel Awards; see sidebar below. For more conference pictures, click here.

Innovative, critical research on air pollution and health took center stage when HEI hosted its 2019 Annual Conference. Approximately 175 experts from academia, government, industry, and nongovernmental organizations gathered for the three-day event, held in Seattle, Washington, in early May. In addition to the scientific sessions, attendees enjoyed informal opportunities to meet and engage with each other across a variety of disciplines.

Health and New Mobility

The conference kicked off on Sunday, May 5, with a series of wide-ranging presentations on the future of mobility. Speakers highlighted new, innovative, and potentially disruptive technologies — such as shared, autonomous, and electric vehicles — and their potential air quality and health implications. They also explored the connection between changes in how people travel and a need for new infrastructure, including green space and transport planning. Panelists from the motor vehicle industry and the Seattle Department of Transportation joined the speakers in engaging the audience in a lively discussion on health considerations of future mobility and possible barriers to introducing new transportation modes.

Monday morning began with a session on the latest results from research on potential health effects of prenatal and early-life exposure to air pollution. The speakers highlighted new epidemiological evidence for adverse birth effects, such as low birthweight, as well as respiratory and neurodevelopmental effects in children. Though often subtle, such early-life effects are important because they may impact the rest of the individual’s life.

Building Science to Inform Global Actions

After a poster session, Monday afternoon continued with discussions of emerging issues in air pollution. First, an overview of HEI’s Global Health Program set the stage for lively discussions about what data are available, as well as opportunities to build scientific knowledge globally, with particular focus on China and India. Such data are essential to enable decision makers to devise policies to safeguard air quality.

Monday wrapped up with the timely, pressing topic of wildfires. Speakers discussed approaches to monitoring and modeling air pollution and health effects associated with the fires, along with strategies to mitigate impacts on health, such as reducing activity levels and creating clean-air spaces in buildings.

Long-Term Low-Level Exposure and Health

Tuesday morning began with investigators presenting interim results from three HEI-funded studies assessing the health effects of long-term low-level exposure in very large populations in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and evaluating whether adverse effects are seen below current air quality standards. The strengths and weaknesses of initial findings from the first two studies, as identified by an independent HEI review panel, were also presented, together with a discussion of possible implications for future research, risk assessment, and regulations.

Looking Forward

The conference concluded with an engaging discussion about HEI’s Strategic Plan for 2020–2025, with a focus on identifying key gaps in scientific knowledge and highlighting key research opportunities. Following a presentation by HEI staff, sponsors and other attendees discussed various aspects of the proposed plan and how its elements may be strengthened. The new plan, to be finalized during the fall, will become effective on April 1, 2020.

Presentation slides and a photo album, along with the full conference program, are available on our Annual Conference page. Next year’s conference, which coincides with HEI’s 40th anniversary, is scheduled for April 5–7, 2020, at the Renaissance Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. Registration and program information will be available in early 2020.


Walter A. Rosenblith New Investigator Awardees, Past and Present

Walter A. Rosenblith New Investigators, past and presentManabu Shiraiwa (third from left), University of California, Irvine, received the 2018 Walter A. Rosenblith New Investigator Award at the conference for his proposal “Formation of reactive oxygen species by organic aerosols and transition metals in epithelial lining fluid.” With him (from left) are past awardees Kymberly Gowdy, East Carolina University (2015); Mònica Guxens, Barcelona Institute for Global Health (2016); Joshua Apte, University of Texas–Austin (2017); and Marie Pedersen, University of Copenhagen, Denmark (2017). At right is HEI Managing Scientist Annemoon van Erp.


2019 Student and Postdoc Travel Awards

2019 Travel Award winnersFor the second year, HEI conferred three student/postdoc Travel Awards to junior researchers studying air pollution and its health effects. The award covers the costs of HEI Annual Conference registration, travel, hotel, and meals. The 2019 awardees were (from left) postdoctoral students Ploy Pattanun Achakulwisut of George Washington University and Erika Garcia from the University of Southern California; and graduate student Lauren Hoskovec of Colorado State University.