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For Our Health - Environmental Resilience


Source from University of Washington

By Jake Ellison

The University of Washington is putting its combined expertise into population health, improving lives around the world.

The marbled crayfish first appeared in Madagascar’s lakes, ponds and streams in 2005. Since then, the crustacean’s range has spread across an area of 100,000 kilometers and now poses a serious threat to the environment as well as to agricultural production in the region.

But the news isn’t all negative for the people of Madagascar. The crayfish offers a benefit by consuming snails that transmit schistosomiasis, a disease that infects human digestive systems. The crayfish could also become a renewable protein source for the country, where over half the children are malnourished.

To help the country make evidence-based action plans, a UW (University of Washington) team funded by a Population Health grant is working with Madagascar’s Ministry of Health and an international organization that helps alleviate the spread of diseases like schistosomiasis. The Malagasy government can use the results of the study to decide how to manage the marbled crayfish to minimize impacts on local biodiversity while maximizing benefits to public health.

Assistant Professor Chelsea Wood says her lab in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Science is forging ahead with the research, despite not being able to travel to the country because of the pandemic. “We’ve been working with our Malagasy partners and are now providing full support for them to run the first phase of sampling without us,” Wood says. “We’re hoping to be able to join them on the ground soon. Ultimately, we aim to evolve these initial efforts into a large, multi-year, multi-institutional project, and we would not have been able to take the first steps toward that goal without [funding] support from the Population Health Initiative and EarthLab [a UW environmental institute].”

Closer to home, scientists and students in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences are working with neighborhood and governmental organizations to study air pollution at SeaTac Airport. The UW’s Mobile Observations of Ultrafine Particles study reported high levels of ultrafine particle pollution in certain neighborhoods. “We found that communities under the flight paths near the airport are exposed to higher proportions of smaller-sized, ‘ultra-ultrafine’ pollution particles and over a larger area compared to pollution particles associated with roadways,” says Associate Professor Edmund Seto.

But the study, the results of which can be used in airport neighborhoods around the world, isn’t just about the environment. Other research has linked exposure to ultrafine particles to breast cancer, heart disease, prostate cancer and a variety of lung conditions. “We can now study the specific health effects of aircraft-related pollution, how different neighborhoods may be affected by it and specific interventions that could reduce human exposure to these pollutants,” adds Professor Michael Yost, who collaborated on the study. “We hope to work with state and local policymakers as well as affected communities to pursue these questions.”


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