October 2023

Research Highlights

October 2023

In this issue: 

'A Truly Exciting Time in HEI's History': Q & A with New President Elena Craft

Elena Craft

Elena Craft took the helm at HEI in August. Below, she shares personal insight, career highlights – including 15 years at the Environmental Defense Fund, most recently as Associate Vice President – and her vision for HEI moving forward.

Why did you decide to come to HEI?

I’ve followed the work of HEI for many, many years and deeply value the integrity with which HEI operates. HEI’s science and review committees represent leading international experts in their disciplines; as a result, the careful and thoughtful approach they take in reviewing and evaluating the strength of scientific studies means that only the best and most compelling science survives. I’ve even tested this myself; in testifying at congressional hearings, I’ve relied on data funded by HEI as some of our strongest evidence, often highlighted in policy decisions related to our national health-based standards. I think of the HEI model as “peer-review on steroids."

What are some top lessons you’ve learned during your career that will inform your leadership role at HEI?

Over the years, I’ve learned that building and nurturing a strong team with a shared passion and commitment to achieve a common vision is mission critical. In every job I’ve had, I’ve been fortunate to work with a diverse team skilled in so many different disciplines, and I find it really exciting to bring everyone together for a shared purpose – especially when it is centered on protecting human health or our planet. On a personal note, I am married to an introvert, and I understand the value and importance of getting feedback from everyone, even people who might be silent during a meeting!

What are some successes that you’ve been proudest of?

Managing a massive media response in Houston to a series of chemical disasters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey has been a highlight of my career. I felt that those efforts by the scientific team I was leading at the Environmental Defense Fund raised awareness about chemical disasters in a way that hadn’t been done before. In addition, as our messaging was centered exclusively on uplifting community voices, I believe that those efforts helped to increase the attention and investment in addressing some of the longstanding disparities that have existed across some of our most vulnerable communities.

I’m also very proud of a paper published earlier this year that assesses a broad suite of variables related to climate vulnerability at the census-track level nationwide. The take-home message is that no matter where you live in the U.S., you are vulnerable to a warming climate in one way or another.

Was there an educator or mentor you recall as being especially influential in your life?

I’ve been fortunate to benefit from many mentors in my life – and each one has offered support and guidance in different ways. Dr. Marie Lynn Miranda, current chancellor at the University of Illinois Chicago, was someone who showed me very early on that it was possible to balance (very delicately balance!) motherhood with a career in science; Dr. Elaine Symanski, at Baylor University, who generously taught me about the responsibilities of running a research center and advising mentees; Dr. Chris Portier, former head of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, who taught me about self-confidence and how to navigate among those in the highest levels of administration; Vickie Patton, general counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund, who taught me the value of bringing my full self to the job, with the passion and enthusiasm and authenticity needed (and in fact required) to be successful, especially in protecting our most precious resource, the next generation; and Reverend James Caldwell, who has taught me about the strength and resilience and power of communities in the face of incredible, immeasurable adversity. I am truly fortunate to be a student of these visionaries, as well as being able to learn from all my colleagues along the way.

Where are some of the areas of opportunity where HEI can focus in the future?

This is a truly exciting time in HEI’s history. We’re seeing the impacts of a warming climate lead from climate-fueled hurricanes to wildfires.

We’re also witnessing a massive clean energy transition and the development of a suite of new technologies and alternative fuels. And, given that the world is more connected than ever, there are opportunities for HEI to leverage our robust scientific expertise to understand the implications of legacy fleets, battery recycling and storage, and a host of other emerging issues.

Tell us about some of the things you do when you’re not working.

I won both the marriage and the kid lottery and am so fortunate to have an incredible and adventurous family. My son Luke is 9 and my daughter Nina is 7; most weekends, you can find us at a baseball field, soccer field, basketball court, swimming pool, yoga studio, gym, or piano recital. It’s also possible that we’re at the airport, traveling to see our beloved extended family scattered across the country, or on an adventure going to investigate a new country or new culture.


Scientific Committees Welcome New Members

HEI recently appointed five new members to three of its scientific committees: the Research Committee, Review Committee, and the Oversight Panel of HEI's Environmental Justice Program.

In collaboration with Institute staff, the Research and Review committees perform distinct and independent roles to ensure the quality and integrity of HEI-funded work. The Research Committee oversees new and ongoing research projects while the Review Committee critically reviews the results. Members can serve a maximum of two four-year terms.

The Environmental Justice (EJ) Oversight Panel functions similarly to the HEI Research Committee ― developing requests for proposals, recommending studies and programs for funding, and providing oversight and feedback while studies are ongoing.


David Dorman is a veterinary toxicologist and a professor of toxicology at North Carolina State University. He completed his undergraduate training in chemistry at the University of San Diego,  his veterinary training at Colorado State University, and his combined doctoral and veterinary toxicology residency program at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Dorman is a diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology and the American Board of Toxicology and is a European Registered Toxicologist. He is an elected fellow of the Academy of Toxicological Sciences, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a National Associate of the U.S. National Academies, and a recent recipient of the University of Eastern Finland’s Fulbright–Saastamoinen Foundation Distinguished Chair in Health Sciences.


Marianne Hatzopoulou is a professor in the Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering at the University of Toronto and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Transport Decarbonization and Air Quality. She is the director of  Positive Zero Transport Futures, a living lab ecosystem for testing transport decarbonization innovations with positive societal outcomes. Her expertise is in exposure assessment and quantifying the co-benefits of greenhouse gas mitigation pathways in the transport sector. Hatzopoulou is an associate editor of the journal Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment and the current chair of the Transportation Research Board Standing Committee on Air Quality and Greenhouse Gas Mitigation.



John Volckens is a professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Center for Energy Development and Health at Colorado State University (CSU). He holds affiliate appointments in Environmental Health, Biomedical Engineering, the Colorado School of Public Health, and the CSU Energy Institute. His research interests involve air quality, low-cost sensors, exposure science, and air pollution–related disease. Volckens received a BS in civil engineering from the University of Vermont and MS/PhD degrees in environmental engineering from the Gillings School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, followed by a postdoctoral appointment at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Exposure Research Laboratory in Research Triangle Park, NC. At CSU, he has pioneered the development of several new aerosol measurement technologies, which have been deployed for public health research in over 40 different countries and as far away as the International Space Station. He is a co-founder of Access Sensor Technologies, a company started through his research collaborations at CSU.


Loni Philip Tabb is an associate professor of biostatistics in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the associate dean for faculty affairs at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health. She leads and collaborates as a principal investigator and co-investigator, respectively, on several National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center funded projects. Her research focuses primarily on spatial statistics and epidemiology, with applications in health and social disparities, violence, and toxicity studies. More recently, Tabb has concentrated her research efforts on the intersection of health and place, specifically as it applies to cardiovascular health. In particular, she uses novel spatial and spatio-temporal statistical methods to look at the local and national geographic patterns of Black–white inequities in the United States. Tabb has taught several courses at Drexel, which include biostatistics, survival data analysis, advanced statistical computing, and Bayesian Data Analysis. She received her MS (2005) and BS (2003) in Mathematics from Drexel University, and her PhD (2010) and AM (2007) degrees in Biostatistics from Harvard University.


Sherri White-Williamson is the director of environmental justice strategy for the North Carolina Conservation Network (NCCN), where she broadens NCCN’s focus to give voice to impacted communities. She retired from the U.S. EPA Office of Environmental Justice, where she was manager of the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice and Designated Federal Officer to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. In addition to her role with NCCN, White-Williamson is a member of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board; the Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice Advisory Board; an adjunct professor at the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment; and a co-founder of the  Environmental Justice Community Action Network. White-Williamson holds a Juris Doctor and Master of Energy Regulation and Law degree from Vermont Law School, where she co-founded the Environmental Justice Law Society. She received the Marc Mihaly Environmental Leadership Award in recognition of her commitment to the environment and environmental justice.

Thanks for 8 Great Years!

We salute longtime members of HEI's Research Committee completing their service in 2023: 

Jeffrey Brook, University of Toronto, and Ivan Rusyn, Texas A&M University, stepped down from the committee last May after completing two four-year terms. Amy Herring of Duke University will conclude two terms on October 31.

Thanks to all for outstanding service!

HEI Energy Investigators Host Open House in Colorado

Map of study locationsHEI Energy, a Health Effects Institute affiliate, is funding independent research on how people in Colorado’s North Front Range community might be exposed to both noise and chemical emissions to the air from unconventional oil and gas development.

On August 23, the study team, led by principal investigator Jeffrey Collett of Colorado State University, hosted an in-person open house for community members to learn more about the research, which is being conducted in Adams County (adjacent to Denver; see map). A number of state and local officials and other community members participated in the event, which was held at a recreation center in Brighton, Colorado.

The participants viewed posters illustrating the research and what to expect while it is underway. They also saw some of the air monitoring equipment the research team is using to detect oil and gas emissions and noise, and they engaged in lively discussion with the scientists and each other.

Posters from the open house are available here. Collett and his team will host another local gathering next year to communicate the study findings.

In total, HEI Energy is currently funding five exposure studies. Open houses in other study locations are being planned, including one in the Eagle Ford Shale Region of Texas later this year.

Stay informed about HEI Energy activities by visiting www.heienergy.org and subscribe to receive news via email. For the latest progress on individual studies, see HEI Energy's Quarterly Research Updates.

Webinars Explore Air Pollution and Health in East Africa

Photo of group standing on a rooftop with air quality monitoring equipmentHEI’s Global Health program recently kicked off a four-part webinar series on air pollution’s significant health impact in East Africa. A main goal of the series is to strengthen capacity for new research in the region, where demand is high for data on air pollution levels and health. The series also serves as a platform for networking and outreach among experts and organizations in the region.

Freely available to the public, the webinars (September 2023 through January 2024) feature a range of speakers, including researchers and health care practitioners, representatives from professional societies, members of national and regional nonprofit groups, and officials from national and local government agencies.

“There is growing interest and capacity across East Africa on topics related to air pollution and health,” said Pallavi Pant, HEI’s Head of Global Health. “We see this webinar series as a platform for exchange of information, peer-learning, and networking among experts and organizations across East Africa and beyond.”

The series began on September 19 with “Building Momentum for Health Studies Using Locally Available Air Quality and Health Data in East Africa,” chaired by Godwin Opinde of Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya.

Subsequent webinars will explore collaborative opportunities for locally led health studies; ways to engage the public and mobilize their support for air quality interventions; and links between air pollution and competing challenges in the region, such as economic growth and food security.

The series follows a workshop held in March 2023, which gathered 50 participants from 7 countries and focused on strengthening technical expertise on air pollution and health in East Africa.

Slides and recordings of past webinars, along with registration information for the remainder of the series, are available here.

HEI Shares Expertise at Major Epidemiology and Exposure Science Meetings

In late summer, HEI continued its track record as a key sponsor and participant in the annual meetings of two leading global scientific organizations, the International Society of Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) and the International Society for Exposure Science (ISES).

At the ISEE conference, held September 17–21 in Kaohsiung, Taiwain, Hanna Boogaard gave a presentation on HEI’s recently completed comprehensive research initiative to investigate the health effects of long-term exposure to low levels of air pollution in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and what’s next on the horizon.

A paper from this low-exposure epidemiology program, written by Massimo Stafoggia of the Lazio Regional Health Service in Rome, Italy, won ISEE’s Best Environmental Epidemiology Paper Award. The paper, “Long-term exposure to low ambient air pollution concentrations and mortality among 28 million people: Results from seven large European cohorts within the ELAPSE project,” was published in The Lancet Planetary Health.

The ISES conference, held in Chicago, Illinois, from August 27–31, featured talks describing scientific partnerships with leaders of historically marginalized communities that face an outsize burden of pollution-related health impacts.

Several HEI staff members were among the chairs and presenters:
Allison Patton co-chaired a symposium, “Progress and Gaps in Community-Engaged Research and Exposure Science Methods to Support Reductions in Air Pollution Inequities.” As part of the symposium, Elise Elliott and Anna Rosofsky introduced HEI’s new Environmental Justice Program and lessons learned from a 2022 EJ workshop in a presentation titled “Facilitating, Supporting, and Funding Scientific Efforts to Advance Environmental Justice in the United States.”

Patton and Dan Crouse presented a poster on HEI’s program of five ongoing studies aimed at improving assessment of long-term exposure to air pollution using mobile platforms, low-cost sensors, machine learning, and other approaches.