'Big visions' for solving environmental health issues
Phil Brown’s interdisciplinary research combines social science and environmental health. Credit: Brooks Canaday
Many contaminants are easy for the public to spot, like emissions from the tailpipe of a car or the sludge from a massive oil spill washing up on the ocean's shores.
But Phil Brown, who joined Northeastern's faculty this fall, says many others are far less easy to identify—including those found in beauty products like deodorant and cologne or in flame retardants, which he has studied extensively.
"It's the things we don't think about being toxic that are in our everyday lives," said Brown, University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences with joint appointments in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities and the Bouvé College of Health Sciences.
For Brown, a renowned scholar whose interdisciplinary research combines social science and environmental health, issues like these are constantly in his crosshairs. Over the last 13 years at Brown University, he led a research group on environmental health science that was supported by a range of grants from several federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency.
His research included focusing on biomonitoring, which measures the level of contaminants in the human body, and on household exposure monitoring, which measures toxicants found in the air and dust inside our homes and the air in our driveways.
Now at Northeastern, Brown is the director of the new Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute. The institute's mission is to bring together an interdisciplinary team of researchers to conduct socialscience research, teaching, community engagement and policy work in the field.
Brown said environmental health researchers should be nimble and attuned to the world's emerging environmental health issues. Brown, for his part, navigated to the field of environmental health science in the 1980s while working in mental health policy. At the time, a colleague was serving as an expert witness in a high-profile groundwater-contamination case in Woburn, Mass., in which civil suits were brought against two companies following community concerns over rising levels of childhood leukemia and other illnesses.
The Woburn case captured Brown's attention immediately, compelling him to investigate.
"I spent a lot of time with the families who had been affected, whose children died or became sick, and that really changed my life," said Brown, who wrote a book on the topic called "No Safe Place: Toxic Waste, Leukemia, and Community Action."
Brown soon realized that many other communities grapple with similar environmental health issues, which led him to engage in the larger debate about environmental causes of illnesses. Over the years, he has also examined health-focused social movements in America dating back to the beginning of Medicare and Medicaid.
"You never know where the work will take you next," said Brown, who earned his Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University. "I'm always looking for interesting new things that are important, that concern people and that have an effect on many people's lives."
Many environmental health issues are local by nature, but Brown said they also serve as catalysts for worldwide environmental change. He praised innovators before him who paved the way for this type of thinking—including Barry Commoner, one of the founders of modern ecology, who passed away last week, and Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book "Silent Spring" exposed the dangers of the pesticide DDT. Both thought leaders, he said, brought environmental dangers to the public eye and helped spark the global environmental movement.
"We need to have those big visions and not be afraid to say, 'This is how the world can be better many years down the road,'" Brown said.
Provided by Northeastern University
- Eating your fruits and veggies Aug 31, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Data mining in the social-media ecosystem Sep 18, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- The language of neural cells Aug 23, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Researchers study cyanobacteria infestations in waterways Sep 24, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Fat for better drug function Aug 09, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Classical and Quantum Mechanics via Lie algebras
Apr 15, 2011 I'd like to open a discussion thread for version 2 of the draft of my book ''Classical and Quantum Mechanics via Lie algebras'', available online at http://lanl.arxiv.org/abs/0810.1019 , and for the...
- More from Physics Forums - Independent Research
More news stories
Research shows that the earlier the age at which youth take their first alcoholic drink, the greater the risk of developing alcohol problems. Thus, age at first drink (AFD) is generally considered a powerful predictor of ...
Health 15 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
One quarter of British lawmakers believe there is an "unhealthy" drinking culture in the Houses of Parliament, according to a survey published on Friday.
Health 21 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) have found that the race and sex of study personnel can influence a patient's decision on whether or not to participate in clinical research.
Health 21 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
The processes to allow people to self-manage their own illness are not being used appropriately by health professionals to the benefit of their patients, new research suggests.
Health 22 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Control of heart disease risk factors varies widely among outpatient practices, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association's Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Scientific Sessions 2013.
Health 23 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Big names in medicine are set to give an upbeat assessment of the war on AIDS on Tuesday, 30 years after French researchers identified the virus that causes the disease.
6 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0
For combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, 'fear circuitry' in the brain never rests
Chronic trauma can inflict lasting damage to brain regions associated with fear and anxiety. Previous imaging studies of people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, have shown that these brain regions can over-or ...
7 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—What if the quality of your work depends more on your focus on the piano keys or canvas or laptop than your musical or painting or computing skills? If target users can be convinced, they ...
19 hours ago | 3.7 / 5 (3) | 0 |
The neural machinery underlying our olfactory sense continues to be an enigma for neuroscience. A recent review in Neuron seeks to expand traditional ideas about how neurons in the olfactory bulb might encode information about ...
18 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
In 2008 researchers from the University of Southern Denmark showed that the drug thioridazine, which has previously been used to treat schizophrenia, is also a powerful weapon against antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as ...
16 hours ago | 3.7 / 5 (3) | 0 |