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CHEER’s 2022 Pilot Grant Awardees Share Progress on Health & Environment Research

April 21, 2023

Principal investigators for two pilot projects funded by the Center for Health and Environment: Education and Research shared their progress at the center’s seminar series event held on March 22.

Assessing Hydraulic Fracturing & Birth Outcomes 

Michelle Wright, Ph.D., faculty member at both Dell Med and UT’s School of Nursing, and Kevin Lanza, Ph.D., faculty member at UTHealth School of Public Health, spoke about their pilot project in a presentation titled, “Well Without Wellness? Impact of Hydraulic Fracturing Wells on Birth Outcomes and Mental Health in Texas.” Their team has mapped all active hydraulic fracturing wells across the state and is currently aligning this data with birth record data from the State of Texas to examine the impact of well density on birth outcomes, specifically birthweight and preterm birth, among minority groups and rural populations. 

Wright and Lanza are starting recruitment for qualitative interviews to better understand the health concerns of people living in close proximity to fracking wells. In the CHEER seminar, their presentation focused on the preliminary results of well density and birth outcomes across the state, as they continue to collect qualitative interview data. 

New Efforts to Monitor Air Quality in Southeast Austin

Sergio Castellanos, Ph.D, faculty member at UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering, and Charles Moody of Community Coalition for Health spoke about their project in a presentation titled, “Environmental Justice and Air Quality in Southeast Austin: Building Partnerships for Communities Close to Industrial Zones.” Community members in East Austin have reported noxious odors and air pollution from industrial operations in their neighborhoods, but there has been no quantitative research to verify these reports due to sparse regulatory air pollution monitoring sites in Austin.

Castellanos’ team — which includes Pawel Misztal, Ph.D., faculty member at UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering — is working on establishing interest and competency in the use of several low-cost air quality monitoring devices among members of the Del Valle community, in partnership with the Community Coalition for Health.

Last November they participated in Community Coalition for Health’s Austin Wellness Fair, where they spoke with community members about air quality and surveyed their interests in hosting air quality monitors. The researcher-community relationships they are building, as well as the eventual exploratory monitoring data, will provide the foundation for a long-term study of the air quality impacts of the Austin industrial boom, and could enable future cohort study on air quality and health impacts.