From Discoveries to Solutions: Environment & Human Health (Full Video)


(soft instrumental music) – The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the contaminants we’re exposed to all have profound impacts on our health. In fact, the World Health
Organization estimates that about 1/4 of our global
disease burden is attributed to modifiable environmental
factors like pollution. Children, pregnant women, and other vulnerable or
underserved populations face the highest environmental
risk to their health. Researchers at the Nicholas School are working with colleagues in medicine, engineering, public policy,
and other disciplines at Duke to develop new approaches
and technologies, to identify the pathways of exposure, and find ways to reduce the risk. Whether it’s testing for toxins in common household products, developing tools to track water
contamination to its source, or identifying more effective approaches for malaria control. We’re working to protect human health and the health of the
ecosystems we call home. (soft instrumental music) – I’m Heather Stapleton, I’m an environmental chemist
and exposure scientist. My research program focuses on identifying man-made chemicals in consumer products and
construction materials that are often applied to
the indoor environment. And understanding where they’re used and how they’re used is
often very challenging in the field of environmental health and environmental science. We’re really interested in understanding and connecting the dots
between chemicals in products, exposure among the general population, and whether there are or or not any health risks from that exposure. We’re one of the few labs in the country that have the capacity
to measure or detect a large suite of different
flame-retardant chemicals used in consumer products
and construction materials. We’ve been conducting
research in this field for more than 10 years now. And from our previous research, we do know that children have a disproportionate amount of
the exposure compared to adults for specific classes of flame retardants. Research has suggested that
exposure to flame retardants, and in particular PBDEs, is associated with deficits
in neural development, particularly in children. Which translates to deficits
in cognitive function, IQ, sometimes associated
with hyperactivity. It’s also been associated with alterations in circulating levels of thyroid hormones. Recently, our research group collaborated with doctors in the Duke Cancer Center to examine exposures to flame retardants in individuals recently diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. And compared their
exposures to individuals that were cancer-free but
of similar demographics. And we found that exposure to several flame-retardant chemicals was significantly higher
in the individuals that were diagnosed with
papillary thyroid cancer. Identifying what these chemicals are in these consumer products can be very challenging
for the general public. Because they’re not disclosed on the product or the labeling. Therefore, we’ve considered our laboratory to be almost an environmental CSI. We bring products into the lab, analyze them by mass spectrometry to identify the chemical structures. So now if there are individuals
in the general public that are concerned about these chemicals and want to understand or
determine if these chemicals might be present in the
product in their home, they can actually take a small piece of it and actually mail it to us. And we can analyze it free of charge, and report back to them on whether these chemicals were present or absent. One of the things I am most proud of is the research we conducted on flame-retardant
chemicals in baby products. A government agency, in this case the State of California, used that data to exempt
several baby products including nursing pillows,
baby carriers, baby strollers. So that manufacturers no longer have to use those chemicals
in those products, which does lead to reductions in exposure. – My name is Randy Kramer, I’m
an environmental economist. In the early days, I was doing studies of how land use was affecting environmental quality. But I quickly learned that it was also affecting human health and the community surrounding the areas where we were studying. Worldwide, over 200
million cases of malaria occur every year. And this results in about
a half a million deaths. The environment can have
a significant impact on malaria transmission in several ways. First, when there’s land use change, that can alter the habitat for mosquitoes, which transmit malaria. Secondly, if there are major
dam construction projects that alter the flow of water, that can increase malaria transmission in surrounding communities. And thirdly, climate
change can play a role. So when temperatures rise, malaria can move to higher elevations, or it can move back into areas where it was previously eradicated. The scale-up of malaria
interventions worldwide has had a major impact on
reducing deaths from malaria. But there’s concern that
some of these interventions are losing their effectiveness. We’ve worked with colleagues in Tanzania to build an interdisciplinary
research team to look at how better to deliver malaria control in rural villages. And this work has involved
household surveys, collection of blood samples, collection of mosquitoes. Also geospatial mapping. And this has allowed us to
look at the effectiveness of different malaria control strategies in multiple study sites. One of the things that we’ve
put a lot of emphasis on is the use of bacteria-based
larvicide called BTI, that we have found kills mosquito larva in an environmentally-safe way, and in a cost-effective way. In addition, we’ve worked with colleagues
to develop what we call the Malaria Decision Analysis
Support Tool, or MDAST. The tool produces a number of simulations that allow decision makers
to look at the trade-offs in terms of health,
environment, and economic costs for applying different
approaches to malaria control. One advantage of using
the MDAST decision tool was that we were able to bring together people from multi sectors, who were working on malaria but not necessarily working together. And we find that the tool creates dialogue that otherwise would not occur. There are a couple of things that I’ve really enjoyed about this work. One is learning from
my African colleagues, because they know far more about controlling malaria than we do. But we’ve been able to bring in some additional resources
and research approaches. I’m very excited about a
new project in Madagascar, working with my Duke
colleague Charlie Nunn, to look at how deforestation
and biodiversity loss is affecting the transmission of diseases from small mammals to humans. And we’re particularly fortunate that we’re able to work
with the conservation team of the Duke Lemur Center, which has an office in the region. In order to carry out the work, we’re taking a group of
students to Madagascar who are helping us collect
socioeconomic data, ecological data, and health data, which will form the
basis of a larger study. And we’re particularly interested in how farmer decision
making around a national park is influencing this disease transmission. The goal is to develop programs that will improve the
sustainability of farming practices as well as to reduce disease risk. We’ve been able to move
forward our research agenda in ways none of us would have
been able to do individually. It’s also been a wonderful
opportunity to train students, both US students and African students, who are working together
side by side in the field. (soft instrumental music) – My name is Avner
Vengosh, I’m a geochemist. I work on water, and I study water contamination in different parts of the world. We work on different areas
in trying to understand what is the source of water contamination, why our waters have been contaminated, and how it’s affecting human health. We currently work in India, China. Previously we worked in Morocco, Jordan, and United States in North Carolina. We use a wide range of
geochemical and isotopic tools that we have developed here at Duke. We can tell whether these contaminants are naturally-occurring, whether they’re coming from coal ash, whether they’re coming
from oil and gas operation. So we built these very sensitive methods, and I think that makes us a bit different from the rest of the world. We’ve been studying coal ash since the Tennessee Valley Authority, the TVA coal ash spill that
took place in Kingston in 2009. We looked and we conducted
several field work and several leaching
experiments in the lab. And we characterized the chemistry and the isotope ratios of coal ash, basically building kind of a fingerprint. What’s in coal ash, and how you identify it
once you have contamination. And what’s in coal ash? Everything. We have arsenic radioactivity,
selenium, boron, a long list of elements
that are extremely toxic, and some of them are carcinogenic. We investigated 15 sites all
over the Southeast of the US, and we found that all of them are leaking. And shallow groundwater and surface water adjacent to those sites
are already contaminated. We are investigating what is the impact of fossil fuel extraction
on water resources. Ironically, we found that
those fracking chemicals that people are so afraid
from hydraulic fracturing, most of them will be
retained and remanaged. And the water that’s coming
out is actually saline water. But it does contain other
level of contaminant. Once the chemistry of the
wastewater mixed with the river, once you take this land and treat it, which you do in any
drinking water utility, you will generate another type of chemical called disinfection by-product, which is extremely toxic, which goes directly into
your drinking water source. And we found that even a
tiny amount of wastewater, less than a percent being
added into the water, could induce the formation of those disinfection
by-products in the treated water. That is a potential health risk for those living all over in the watershed of oil and gas operation. The public and the utilities
are ready to listen. And they are ready to
work with the science to do their operation in a way that will help minimize
the environmental effect. The problem is here and now, how you minimize the environmental effect. And that’s where we are. – Today here at the Nicholas School, we are a community of
scholars and learners focused on understanding the complex ways human actions change our environment. And how these changes in turn can affect our own health as well. Our strength is our
ability to work together on that arc that leads from
discoveries to solutions. (soft instrumental music)

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