November 2021

Dear EHS Family,

This month the Columbia Climate School and former President Obama and his foundation worked together during the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference to host panel discussions and urge business leaders to accelerate their own clean energy investments.

This month in the news, we also wish to celebrate an important milestone as the Biden Administration announced regulations to limit the exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 

Our faculty in the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) have led the research in this area and it is an incredible privilege to see the translation of this research into meaningful policy. Congratulations to our faculty and staff in the CCCEH on this monumental achievement.

This month we're also excited to co-host a conference between WE ACT, our NIEHS P30 Center, and CCCEH. Be sure to register here and see further details below.

This has been an incredibly busy and productive start to the academic year. We're excited to announce wonderful news and additional offerings and trainings this Fall and Spring 2022. Until then, we look forward to sharing details in the coming weeks. In the meantime, stay well and have a great holiday break this November!


Andrea Baccarelli, MD, PhD, MPH
Leon Hess Professor and Chair
Department of Environmental Health Sciences

EHS Highlights









Studies and standards published by environmental health scientists at Columbia University Mailman lead to regulation on PFAS

The Biden Administration recently announced regulations to limit exposures to compounds such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The federal plan will also support the evaluation of additional PFAS chemicals, some of which are a byproduct of fracking. The White House announced that eight agencies will take steps, using a new EPA Roadmap towards a comprehensive approach to addressing PFAS & Advancing Clean Air, Water, and Food. The EPA will set enforceable limits and require monitoring of public water supplies for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is ubiquitously used from textiles and apparel to cookware.

Dr. Herbstman, co-author of a 2007 study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology that found PFOA and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) were present in nearly 99-100 percent of cord blood samples from 299 newborns, noted that, "Our research added to evidence showing that PFAS are ubiquitous and unavoidable, and present real risks to the health of children." Despite awareness of the harmful effects of PFAS, chemical makers have had a longstanding history in producing and using these substances resulting in potential contamination in over 1500 drinking water systems.








Mailman School of Public Health to Lead New York City’s Pandemic Response Institute

The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) has granted an innovative award to a consortium of community, government, and academic partners to operate a brand new Pandemic Response Institute (PRI). Operated by Columbia University and led by global health center, ICAP with key partner CUNY School of Public Health, the PRI will play a critical role in preparing for future pandemics, and promoting equity in public health. The PRI will address the entire lifecycle of emergency preparedness and response. Dr. Jeff Shaman will be part of the technical core teams within the epidemiology & modeling team. 

As reported by the Mailman news, the vision for the PRI is for cooperative action to mitigate future illness, suffering, deaths, and disparities associated with public health threats. The Institute will work hand-in-hand with New Yorkers in communities across the five boroughs to develop and deploy locally tailored health solutions, information, and capacity to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from future health crises.

Spotlight Series






Above: Lewis Ziska, Robbie Parks, Sebastian Rowland, Teresa Yamana, Sen Pei, Yanelli Nunez, Marta Galanti, Maggie Li, Jaime Benavides

EHS Spotlight: Climate & Health Program

The Climate and Health Program was launched in 2008 with the mission to foster innovative, cross-disciplinary scholarship on the human health dimensions of climate, as well as the goal of advancing society’s capacity to understand, anticipate, and prevent adverse health consequences.

The Program, currently led by Dr. Jeffrey Shaman, trains PhD and DrPH students, and postdoctoral scientists in the design and conduct of cutting-edge research on mechanisms linking climate to health as well as on methods for assessing the health impacts and benefits of future climate policy scenarios. The Program also offers the first ever MPH certificate in climate and health and hosts a monthly Climate and Health Seminar. Contact Haruka Morita know if you would like to join the seminar.

Program faculty, staff and students are engaged in research on human health impacts from a range of environmental exposures that reveal how climate change can make certain communities and health care systems more vulnerable.

Recently, Carlos Gould and Israel Ukawuba completed their PhD final defenses during which time we also saw the introduction of two new faculty, Drs. Sen Pei and Cecilia Sorensen, to the Department and C&H Program.

Dr. Cecilia Sorensen studies links between heat stress and chronic kidney disease. Drs. Shaman and Sen Pei develop mathematical models and computational tools to better understand the environmental, social, and ecological drivers of infectious disease transmission.

Visit their website for more on research by non-EHS faculty members as well as Program news. The 2021 Newsletter can be found here.

EHS Awards & Announcements

Announcement: Upcoming Conference: "Moving Towards Beauty Justice: Conversations for Change." We invite you to be part of this virtual conversation that will focus on chemicals in beauty products, their impacts on communities of color, and ways we can generate change. Co-hosted by the NIEHS Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and the Columbia’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health.
November 11, 2021, 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM EST. Please register for the event at the link here.


Announcement: New Funding Opportunity: P30 Center Annual Pilot Award Announcement.
Goal: Seeking innovative and promising pilot project proposals in all areas of environmental health. Awards up to $35,000.
Deadline: Wednesday, December 1, 2021.
Statistical Consultation Deadline: November 15, 2021. Instructions and application materials can be found here.



Name: Anne Nigra, PhD
Award / Sponsor:  DP5 (NIH/NIEHS)
Title: Public Drinking Water Contaminants and Infant Health: Advancing Environmental Justice
Goal: To develop a novel database of exposure estimates of regulated contaminants in public water systems across the entire United States at multiple spatial resolutions. The database will enable nationwide epidemiologic studies linking public water exposures to numerous related outcomes.


Announcement: CUIMC Leadership and Management Course for Women Faculty
Faculty: Diane B. Re
Summary: A four-day program designed for faculty who currently have leadership/management responsibilities or who wish to include these in their career goals. The program helps participants develop the knowledge and skills necessary for current and future leadership positions in the academic health sciences by utilizing active learning methods, including case studies, discussion, and the development of a personal project.


Announcement: New Patent for a, "Method for a Radiator EGS to Harvest Geothermal Energy"
Faculty: Markus Hilpert
Summary: Markus Hilpert was part of a team that received a recent patent for harvesting geothermal energy which includes an EGS configured to allow the commercial production of electrical energy.



EHS in the News

Tiffany Sanchez
Arsenic, uranium mix may increase diabetes risk in American Indians

Recently, Dr. Tiffany Sanchez was profiled by the NIEHS in it's latest issue of Environmental Factor for her work analyzing metabolic affects of toxic metals. According to a recent study, Dr. Sanchez explores how arsenic and uranium exposures are associated with the development of diabetes in American Indian populations. Dr. Sanchez notes how her work, "presents an atlas of metal exposure on human metabolites and provides important preliminary evidence toward the identification of metabolic signatures of metal mixtures”. 


Sen Pei
Is a Bad Flu Season Coming? Study Projects Sharp Rebound Following Relaxation of COVID Distancing Measures.

Published in the Mailman News, and according to new findings published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, Columbia researchers are expecting a large-scale influenza outbreak worsened by seasonal flu outbreaks for the next several years. Pei and colleagues used a computer model of influenza A/H1 and B, which circulated in early 2020. In subsequent seasons, they estimate that outbreaks will also be elevated, gradually returning to pre-pandemic levels. Over the last decade, U.S. influenza deaths ranged from 12,000 in 2011-12 to 61,000 in 2017-2018.


Jeff Shaman
COVID-19 Herd Immunity Is a Mirage. Here's How the Virus Could Become 'Manageable' Instead

In a USA Today article, Dr. Shaman shared his insight into how COVID-19 could become more manageable in the long-run.  “Once we get to the point where everybody has been exposed or vaccinated and if – and it’s a big if – COVID does what other respiratory illnesses do, it may be a disease that’s manageable,” said Jeffrey Shaman, "but will this virus follow the typical path of others that we come to live with?“ For additional stories featuring Jeff Shaman, please see below. Newsweek, ABC News, NBC News, NYTimes, USA Today.


Joan Casey
Californians living within miles of oil and gas wells have toxic air

Joan Casey spoke with Environmental Health News, regarding a new study published in September in the journal Science of The Total Environment. Dr. Casey, not involved with the study, noted that the new paper, "fills a big gap" in understanding how oil and gas developments can harm people's health.



Lewis Ziska
Lancet Policy Brief: Urgent Action Needed to Address Climate Crisis

Three Columbia University Mailman faculty, including Dr. Lewis Ziska.,  are contributors to a brief accompanying The Lancet 2021 Countdown on Health and Climate Change. This brief reviews research on the extensive health risks of climate change and proposes policy changes. Dr. Ziska notes, "Climate change effects... are happening today and they impact every aspect of our health, from the air we breathe—more smoke, more pollen—to the nutritional quality of the food you eat—less protein." Another story featuring Dr. Ziska was featured in the Mailman News: What Does the Changing Climate Mean for Food Security?


Papers of the Month

Take a minute to read one of the many fantastic publications by our faculty, students, and staff. Faculty names are bolded:

Climate Justice and California's Methane Superemitters: Environmental Equity Assessment of Community Proximity and Exposure Intensity.
Casey JA, Cushing L, Depsky N, Morello-Frosch R.Environ Sci Technol. 2021 Oct 20. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.1c04328. Online ahead of print.PMID: 34668703

Environmental-level exposure to metals and metal-mixtures associated with spirometry-defined lung disease in American Indian adults: Evidence from the Strong Heart Study. Sobel M, Navas-Acien A, Powers M, Grau-Perez M, Goessler W, Best LG, Umans J, Oelsner EC, Podalanczuk A, Sanchez TR. Environ Res. 2021 Oct 13:112194. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2021.112194. Online ahead of print.PMID: 34653410

Hyperlocalized Measures of Air Pollution and Preeclampsia in Oakland, California.
Goin DE, Sudat S, Riddell C, Morello-Frosch R, Apte JS, Glymour MM, Karasek D, Casey JA. Environ Sci Technol. 2021 Oct 14. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.1c02151. Online ahead of print.PMID: 34648281

The association between early country-level COVID-19 testing capacity and later COVID-19 mortality outcomes.
Kannoth S, Kandula S, Shaman J. Influenza Other Respir Viruses. 2021 Oct 14. doi: 10.1111/irv.12906. Online ahead of print.PMID: 34647421 

Racial Inequalities in Drinking Water Lead Exposure: A Wake-Up Call to Protect Patients with End Stage Kidney Disease.
Nigra AE, Navas-Acien A. J Am Soc Nephrol. 2021 Oct;32(10):2419-2421. doi: 10.1681/ASN.2021060793. Epub 2021 Sep 20.PMID: 34544822