Ana Maria Mora, MD, PhD is passionate about sharing what she has learned through her work in environmental public health with everyone. While she spends half of her time in Northern California studying the effects of early-life exposure to pesticides in children living in the Salinas Valley, she spends a lot of her time on research projects that impact the health of people in the country she where she was born and that she calls home, Costa Rica.
While there is attention being given to the field of environmental health here in the U.S., she notes “that in Costa Rica, we’re always behind on research on environmental health topics. There are a lot of epidemiologists and exposure scientists in the US, but in Costa Rica we are very few [epidemiologists and exposure experts]; and the problem that we face is that some people refuse to believe that findings from studies conducted outside of our country can be applicable to our population.” . . .
Cynthia Curl, PhD, MS knows about pesticides. In fact, it has been a topic of research for her for the last 15 years. While much of her work now compares levels of pesticide exposures among consumers of organic versus conventional produce, that isn’t initially where her research began.
“I didn’t start out studying diet or organic food, I really started out looking at pesticide exposures among farm workers and their families. I was working with the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center, whose mission is…to improve farm worker health. [But,] we had this unexpected finding where we had some kids in Seattle with higher exposures [to pesticides] than kids in farming communities out in Eastern Washington, and it took us a while to even come up with some ideas about why this may be. Ultimately, I started to suspect that it was diet just because of their differences in socioeconomic status and differences in dietary patterns that their parents reported,” Dr. Curl shares. . . .
Vanessa Galavíz, PhD, MPH is committed to making a difference for communities most affected by environmental hazards such as air pollution, pesticides, and water contamination. Her work has always focused on marginalized communities, and her work with the California Environmental Protection Agency and the University of Washington School of Public Health is no different.
She is intent on doing this work because she remembers how she felt when she first learned what public health can do and what environmental health means. . . .
Ana Mascareñas, MPH has devoted herself to making sure that everyone has the opportunity for their voice to be heard and finding creative solutions to address inequities. Whether that is through asking for input or taking all points of view into consideration, her goal is that when a project is designed, all community members have had their values recognized.
In her work with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (CA DTSC), her job is to provide meaningful spaces for underrepresented communities in environmental regulatory decisions that affect them. . . .
Meet Our 20 Pioneers under 40 in Environmental Public Health: Samantha Rubright, DrPH, CPH
Samantha Malone Rubright, DrPH, CPH is one member of a small, non-profit organization called FracTracker Alliance. The goal of FracTracker “is to help stakeholders understand oil and gas data so that they can make informed choices and affect protective policy decisions.”
“Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is called, is just one part of drilling for oil and natural gas today. Fracking is a stimulation process that uses lots of water, injected at high pressure into the ground, along with chemicals and sand, to fracture the earth and bring the resources to the surface. Drillers use unconventional methods like fracking to extract oil and other hydrocarbons from underground because these resources are not in easily accessible pockets or reservoirs,” Dr. Rubright explains. . . .
Kelly Ferguson, PhD, MPH, is an NIH researcher whose focus is looking at how different exposures impact birth outcomes. Her interest in environmental health comes from the fact that it’s something that everyone deals with.
“It’s a concern that affects everyone and that everyone can kind of wrap their head around… people are often thinking about what chemicals are going into their body, what chemicals are in their air, what chemicals are in the food that they are eating, and so I think it’s something that is really easy to communicate with everyone about,” Dr. Ferguson says.
Her work is also looking at oxidative stress, most specifically as it relates environmental exposures in women and preterm birth. . . .
Amy Padula, PhD, has devoted much of her work to looking at how the air we breathe can impact health.
“Most of my work has been focused on air pollution exposures during pregnancy and how it affects the baby,” Dr. Padula says.
Air pollution affects everyone, but she has a unique and interesting reason why her work has focused on women who are pregnant and their children.
“We look at pregnancy because it is the special time when there is a lot developing and a lot happening. As humans, we are very vulnerable during this period of development and, in a way, during pregnancy, babies can be considered canaries in a coal mine because they develop so fast that if there are adverse changes to their development, we are able to see them more quickly than, for example, increases in mortality over 60, 70, or 80 years,” Dr. Padula explains. . . .
In a way, Allan Just, PhD has come full circle. He is now a professor and researcher at Mount Sinai, but developed his interest in children’s health after hearing a CHE webinar at the start of his career.
“There was a CHE Call in 2005, it was moderated by Michael Lerner, and it was about early life exposures and their role in the developmental origins of disease, really it was focused on cancer. But, I listened to that CHE call, and it made so much sense to me. You are going through this developmental period early in life, as a fetus and as a young child, and you are getting set up on this trajectory of who you are going to become, and if you perturb that, that is going to have consequences down the road. I thought about how all the studies that I was involved with at the time were really focused on adults. And, if you were interested in chronic diseases, which can have extremely long latencies, the relevant time period, if you are interested in the environmental contribution, might be decades before you can distinguish who does and doesn’t go on to develop disease. And, I thought ‘well it’s sort of a little bit crazy to look at adults then, because if we are interested in the environmental role, it’s too late,’” Dr. Just recalls. . . .
Meet our 20 Pioneers under 40 in Environmental Public Health: Joseph Braun, PhD, MSPH
Joseph Braun, PhD, MSPH spends his time figuring out how things that children come into contact with even before they are born can have an impact later in their lives.
“We are focused on understanding how early life environmental exposures influence children’s growth and development. We are considering the early life window now to extend from before conception in both the mother and the father, during the prenatal period in the mother, when the baby is in the womb, and the postnatal period from infancy onward till adolescence. So, we are looking at a wide range of environmental chemical exposures and how they influence children’s risk of neurobehavioral disorders like ADHD or autism as well as their risk of becoming obese or overweight. And, even how environmental factors might influence their metabolism of things like glucose or lipids. Finally, we are also trying to understand some of the biologic mechanisms that underlie these associations,” Dr. Braun says. . . .
Nourbese Flint, MA serves as the Policy Director and manager of reproductive justice programs at Black Women for Wellness (BWW). There, she directs reproductive and environmental health policy, organizes community advocacy, and manages reproductive and sexual health programming as well as civic engagement.
With her work in the policy realm and the reproductive justice world, she knows how important an intersectional approach to a topic can be. . . .