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Airborne pollutants and the health problems they create

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November 29, 2012

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Pol­i­cy­makers often develop new envi­ron­mental rules and reg­u­la­tions based on the rec­om­men­da­tions of researchers whose exper­tise lie in the envi­ron­mental health sciences.

Helen Suh, for example, a newly appointed asso­ciate pro­fessor of health sci­ences in the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, is one of the researchers at the fore­front of helping sci­en­tists and gov­ern­ment offi­cials under­stand air-​​pollution expo­sure and its impact on health.

Many pol­lu­tants exist in the air at the same time, making it dif­fi­cult to sep­a­rate the health impacts of one pol­lu­tant from another,” said Suh, an expert in envi­ron­mental expo­sure assess­ment and epi­demi­ology. “To gather mean­ingful infor­ma­tion for pol­i­cy­makers, we need new approaches to examine the indi­vidual and joint impacts of these pol­lu­tants simultaneously.”

To assist in this effort, Suh develops Geo­graphic Infor­ma­tion Systems-​​based models that can pre­dict the con­cen­tra­tion of air pol­lu­tion in par­tic­ular loca­tions and at par­tic­ular times. This research has been instru­mental in linking spe­cific pol­lu­tants to adverse health effects.

Suh’s work has extended beyond the walls of acad­emia. She per­forms advi­sory work in envi­ron­mental health for numerous local, national and inter­na­tional orga­ni­za­tions. Suh is cur­rently a member of the U.S. Envi­ron­mental Pro­tec­tion Agency charter Clean Air Sci­en­tific Advi­sory Com­mittee and the Insti­tute of Medicine’s Com­mittee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Vet­erans of Expo­sure to Her­bi­cides. She is also asso­ciate editor of the Inter­na­tional Journal of Expo­sure Sci­ence and Envi­ron­mental Epidemiology.

Deci­sions to reg­u­late envi­ron­mental pol­lu­tants require input from many sci­en­tific dis­ci­plines,” Suh said.

Not sur­pris­ingly, Suh noted that Northeastern’s com­mit­ment to fos­tering inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research attracted her to the uni­ver­sity. “Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research is crit­ical to envi­ron­mental health research and edu­ca­tion,” she said. “So often depart­ments and dis­ci­plines operate as silos. I like to build bridges between these silos, which for the envi­ron­mental health field, involves diverse dis­ci­plines ranging from engi­neering to archi­tec­ture to health sci­ences to biology. You need to assemble a whole com­mu­nity that can work together to solve these problems.”

Suh com­pleted her under­grad­uate edu­ca­tion at MIT and then received both a master’s and doc­torate degree from the Har­vard School of Public Health. She spent the last two decades teaching at Harvard.

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