Curbing Air Pollution

Summer 2016

Illustration of factory smokestacks A new interdisciplinary science team, led by experts from Yale and Johns Hopkins and funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, will study how power generation trends, climate change, and public policy interact to affect air quality. A key goal of the project: to trace how the resulting changes in air pollution may affect the health of people who live and work in the mid-Atlantic area.

To help unravel this environmental puzzle, the EPA has awarded a five-year, $10 million grant to establish the new Solutions for Energy, AiR, Climate and Health Center, based at Yale and co-led by Johns Hopkins. The SEARCH Center includes prominent researchers from Johns Hopkins and eight other institutions.

Whiting School alumna and Yale faculty member Michelle Bell, MS ’99, PhD ’03, will direct the new center. Benjamin Hobbs, the Theodore M. and Kay W. Schad Professor of Environmental Management, director of the Environment, Energy, Sustainability and Health Institute at Johns Hopkins, will co-direct. About $3 million of the new EPA grant will be channeled through the institute to support Johns Hopkins’ interdisciplinary contribution to the research effort, Hobbs says, making this the institute’s most ambitious endeavor since its launch in 2010.

The center plans to gather data by developing and deploying air pollution sensors—including designs that individuals can wear—to measure real-world air pollution throughout Baltimore. “The quality of Baltimore’s air is profoundly affected by the ways we use energy for our buildings, transportation, industry, and electricity,” Hobbs says. “Since our country is in the middle of huge changes in how we use energy, so too will the sources and effects of air pollutants change.”

To understand the impact of these changes and advise policymakers on how to address them, the center will call on the expertise of researchers from a diverse range of fields, including public health, sensor development, biostatistics, climate science, and energy use projections. The goal is to predict as accurately as possible which developments are likely to increase or curb air pollution, and how soon and what kind of corrective action may be needed. — Phil Sneiderman