New Center targets environmental health disparities in Massachusetts

community garden in Boston
A community garden in Boston

August 4, 2016—A new collaborative effort by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston University School of Public Health aims to address the health effects of exposure to multiple negative environmental and social factors—such as air pollution, excess noise, lack of green space, and crime—in communities across Massachusetts. The Center for Research on Environmental and Social Stressors in Housing Across the Life Course (CRESSH) is among five nationwide Centers of Excellence that recently received federal funding for environmental health disparities research.

“We know that air pollution, temperature, and other factors in the environment where people live can affect their health. Our goal is to understand how certain characteristics, such as race or income, neighborhood, and features of homes—such as the age or proximity to a busy road—can interact to affect health risk,” said CRESSH co-director Francine Laden, professor of environmental epidemiology at Harvard Chan School. “Together with a strong working relationship with our community partners we aim to provide evidence that will lead to the most effective intervention targets for improving people’s health.”

The CRESSH team will study how air pollution, weather, and housing conditions may affect birth weight, childhood growth trajectories, and risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and whether improved urban housing may benefit health. They will also partner with community organizations on research activities and to develop culturally appropriate materials to suggest ways to reduce exposure to harmful environmental agents.

CRESSH will focus on low-income neighborhoods in Massachusetts, particularly in the city of Chelsea and the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. Researchers will measure residents’ exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution, and will also look at how this exposure interacts with stressors affecting communities—such as crime and noise—to harm health.

The Center, which received a five-year grant for $5 million, is jointly funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Center for Environmental Research.

Jonathan Levy, professor of environmental health at BU, is co-director of the Center.

Read BU press release and watch a video interview with Levy

Amy Roeder

Image courtesy of CRESSH

This story was updated on August 15, 2016.