Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
Public Relations and Marketing Communications
ATLANTA – Atlanta’s air pollution is notorious, with numerous air quality alert days every summer, affecting human health.
As some lower-income and mostly minority neighborhoods right next to clogged interstate highways, people in neighborhoods such as Pittsburgh and Mechanicsville are hit the hardest with air pollution affecting respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
Researchers and students from Georgia State University, which is working to help solve the problems of cities, are investigating air pollution in these neighborhoods to help determine how people living in those are affected.
Christina Fuller, assistant professor of public health, and undergraduate students in the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program in the Department of Geosciences, along with members of the community measured air quality at more than 120 sites throughout Atlanta in summer and fall 2012.
The neighborhoods included those close to the downtown Georgia State campus in Neighborhood Planning Unit-V, such as Pittsburgh and Mechanicsville, as well as areas out by Interstate 285.
The project was part of work by the Center of Excellence for Health Disparities Research, or CoEx, which is working to address health inequalities in Atlanta under a multimillion-dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health.
“We’re looking at neighborhoods at different poverty levels within Atlanta to compare pollution levels between those different poverty levels, and to look at the spatial distribution of pollutants,” Fuller said.
With some neighborhoods experiencing higher pollution, the health impacts to minorities and low-income individuals may be higher than for other populations.
“Since there are so many people potentially exposed to ambient air pollution, there could be a significant number of people affected by negative outcomes,” Fuller said. “The burden is very high.”
Students and members of the communities placed small, passive monitors around the neighborhoods for one to two weeks, measuring nitrogen dioxide produced when burning gasoline or diesel fuel. It is a good marker for pollution from tailpipes, as well as particulate matter.
The project not only addresses a serious health problem affecting Atlantans, but also was a great educational experience for undergraduates.
Alyssa Combs, a geography major, participated in the research experience. Community service is one of her great passions. The project was a perfect opportunity to continue that work.
“I’ve been doing community service since I was 12, and I love the interaction that I get participating and helping people,” Combs said. “That’s really what attracted me to the REU program, because I was interested in focusing on urban inequality.”
Getting the community involved was very important to the project, and the Georgia State researchers and students worked with Eco-Action, a community-based environmental group, to place monitors around neighborhoods.
“Originally, people were cautious, but curious about what we were doing and asked many questions,” Combs said. “As we continued to sample across the neighborhoods, people actually knew we were coming and expected us, which was pretty nice. By the end of the project, we all became family and still have connections with them to this day.”
Yomi Noibi, executive director of Environmental Community Action, Inc., or ECO-Action, said Georgia State students learned valuable lessons by working hand-in-hand with the community.
“They demonstrated the need to learn from the community, and also to respect the community in the process,” said Noibi, whose community-based group worked with Georgia State students. “They were inspired by the community to further their studies, and learned more about having concerns about environmental protection from the community perspective.”
Combs said she hopes the project will let leaders know about health inequality and community concerns.
“Our goal was to shed some light on neighborhood concerns so that the community was informed,” she said, “as well as to provide tools and information so that the community can take this information to political leaders and further provide a lens on an underrepresented area.”
For more information about CoEx, visit http://coex.gsu.edu.
The Research Experience for Undergraduates program of the Community, Soil, Air, Water (CSAW) program, which sponsored the students and the work, is recruiting students for the program. Visit http://csaw.gsu.edu/nsf-reu/ for more information. The application deadline is March 1, 2013.
Feb. 5, 2013