New Research Center to Study Environmental Health Disparities

Posted on: May 25, 2016 Topics: health disparities

The School of Public Health and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have received federal funding to collaborate on a new research center that will study environmental health disparities in birth weight, childhood growth trajectories, and cardiovascular mortality in Massachusetts, with a focus on housing-related exposures.

The new Center for Research on Environmental and Social Stressors in Housing Across the Life Course is among five Centers of Excellence on Environmental Health Disparities Research jointly funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), and the National Center for Environmental Research at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The five centers will work to improve health in communities overburdened by pollution and other environmental factors that contribute to health disparities. Within each center, scientists will partner with community organizations to develop culturally appropriate ways to reduce exposure to harmful environmental conditions.

The new centers, funded by five-year grants, are an expansion of a pilot program started by NIMHD and EPA. The centers will examine the impact of both chemical and non-chemical stressors on health. Examples of chemical stressors are air pollution and exposure to uranium or metals from mining. Non-chemical stressors include sub-standard housing conditions, poor diet, and adverse social dynamics.

“We are delighted to be awarded this grant,” said Jonathan Levy, professor of environmental health, who will lead the center, along with Francine Laden of Harvard. “Our center will incorporate multiple disciplines to better understand exposures and stressors in urban housing and their health consequences.”

The center will focus on Chelsea and Dorchester, working closely with community partners, he said, while also examining environmental health disparities throughout Massachusetts.

In announcing the grants, NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum said that more than a decade of NIH research has shown that “low-income, minority and tribal communities experience higher levels of environmental pollution in the United States, and that these populations often have poorer health. It is important to understand modifiable influences on health, such as environmental, behavioral, and lifestyle changes, so that we can improve health and well-being.”

More information about the BU–Harvard center can be found at

Lisa Chedekel

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