Healthy Communities

Researchers studied the impact of warming on microbial communities in a tundra area near Denali National Park in Alaska.
Wireless sensor node developed by Yang Wang
 

The world’s population is growing and, increasingly, moving to cities, where concentrated resources and opportunities present great efficiencies. A 2018 report from the United Nations projects that cities could add 2.5 billion people in the next few decades, mostly in Asia and Africa. The World Health Organization’s Global Burden of Disease identifies risk factors that include dietary, behavioral, socio-economic, environmental, mental health and public safety metrics that are associated with mortality and morbidity outcomes. Civil and environmental engineers will work closely with public health scientists and policy-makers to design and implement strategies that improve the quality of life.

These growing urban regions will place new demands on our infrastructure systems and create new stress for our environment. People need clean water to drink, cook and bathe. They need clear air to breathe. They need systems to safely remove wastes from their neighborhoods and communities.

Creating healthy communities is not just a problem that’s coming; it’s already here. To be prepared for the future, we must find ways to provide safe drinking water to the roughly 1 billion people without it today. Diarrheal disease, often transmitted through contaminated water, remains a leading cause of childhood illness and death in many parts of the world.

Likewise, air pollution has been linked to a variety of health issues, from respiratory diseases like asthma to cardiovascular problems. In many of these same communities, pollution exists not just outdoors, where a combination of human activity and natural processes can lead to unsafe air. It also extends indoors as a result of cooking practices, building materials and natural gases and molds.

Already, researchers in CEEatGT are working to engineer solutions to these and other challenges to ensure we live in a future where all people can thrive.

We are working to develop technologies and processes that can improve global public health, designing for scarcity, scalability and resilience.

We are working to develop innovative ways to deliver clean water free of harmful pathogens and chemicals and to carry away wastes.

We are working to reduce the human impact on natural resources, protecting water supplies and managing organic and inorganic human waste.

We are working to control dangerous particulate matter in the air to reduce exposure to carcinogens and other health hazards.

We are working to understand the influence of a changing climate on public health and personal well-being and adapt to that new reality.

We are working to harness the capabilities of microbes and natural processes to protect communities and clean polluted environments.

We are working to study the relationships between the built environment and our transportation systems so we can improve community designs to foster mobility, encourage healthy living, and balance economic opportunities with personal well-being.

And we are working to understand emerging autonomous transportation systems that present new opportunities for reducing transportation-related injuries and deaths and improving the mobility of under-served communities and aged residents by road and air.

EXAMPLE PROJECTS
A Systems Approach to Improve Predictions of Biodegradation and Ecosystem Recovery in Coastal Marine Sediments Impacted by Oil SpillsAfter coastal oil spills, petroleum hydrocarbons accumulate in submerged nearshore sediments and on beaches, poisoning these ecosystems and creating health risks for coastal organisms and humans. Erosion and deposition cycles lead to burial of weathered crude oil in submerged shelf beds, intertidal sediments, and dry beach sands. Prediction of the effects and fate of these buried petroleum hydrocarbons remains hampered by our limited understanding of the controls of the biodegradation and functioning of sedimentary microbial communities that break down petroleum hydrocarbons. The main goals of this project are to link microbial degradation of buried oil and associated transport processes, and to integrate these data in a model that allows predictions of pathways and rates of oil degradation, and thus, forecasting recovery pathways in future oil spills.
Sponsor: Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative
Co-Principal Investigator: Kostas Konstantinidis
 
Developing Low-Carbon Cities in the USA, China & India through Inter-Disciplinary Integration Across Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Social Sciences & Public Health - A five-year project that will contribute to the development of low-carbon, sustainable cities in the U.S., India, and China. The research effort is two-pronged, focusing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in selected cities and also addressing broader sustainability goals such as economic development, water scarcity, environmental pollution, climate change, and public health.
Sponsor: National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE)
Co-Principal Investigator: Armistead Russell
 
Development of Metagenomics-Based Method for Improving Detection of Foodborne Pathogens – This project will identify and test the discriminatory power of gene signatures for Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) to establish biomarkers that robustly distinguish STEC from innocuous relatives adapted to environmental niches; establish bioinformatics protocols that enable reliable detection of these biomarkers in produce-associated microbial community through sequence-based, culture-independent diagnostic tests; and apply the developed method to characterize the interactions between produce-associated microbial communities and STECs under pre- and post-harvested conditions.
Sponsor: U.S. Department of Agriculture
Principal Investigator: Kostas Konstantinidis
 
Persistence of Molecular Markers Used in Fecal Source Tracking: Metagenomic-Based Assessment of Microbial and Human DNAWith the relatively new molecular biological tools, the identification of fecal contamination in the environment increasingly makes use of rapid molecular assays to identify DNA sequences specific to fecal indicator bacteria or DNA from host-specific cells such as mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) shed in stools. Unknowns persist, however, primarily regarding the kinetic relationships between culture-dependent and culture-independent assays, since time-since-contamination information is critical in surveillance as a proxy for fecal pathogen survival and therefore public health risk. This work will elucidate the strengths and limitations of current and novel molecular assays intended to identify fecal contamination in environmental waters.
Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Principal Investigator: Joe Brown
Co-Principal Investigator: Kostas Konstantinidis
 
Population Density, Sanitation, and Health in Urban Maputo – Evaluating the impact of improved latrines on children's health in developing countries. The project, which will assess whether children are actually healthier as a result of better sanitation, tests decentralized sanitation systems in an urban area, the first study of its kind.
Sponsor: U.S. Agency for International Development
Principal Investigator: Joe Brown
 
Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Processes and Systems: Participatory Modeling of Complex Urban Infrastructure Systems (Model Urban SysTems) – This project is designed to develop the theory that infrastructure systems, with their many interdependencies and complex adaptations, have many similarities to ecological systems. Insights will be useful in the future development of tools and methods for design and evaluation of urban infrastructure systems and their resilience under stresses such as climate change, urban growth patterns and extreme weather events.
Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Principal Investigator: John Crittenden
 
Southeastern Center for Air Pollution and Epidemiology (SCAPE) – A joint Emory University-Georgia Tech U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Clean Air Center studying air quality and the health effects of air pollution through four research projects.
Sponsor: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Principal Investigators: Armistead Russell, James Mulholland
 
SRN: Integrated Urban Infrastructure Solutions for Environmentally Sustainable, Health and Livable Cities – This National Science Foundation Sustainability Research Network is working to reimagine infrastructure — energy grids, road networks, green spaces, and food and water systems — to create cities that are highly functional, that promote the health of residents and the environment, and that have the intangible “vibe” that makes them desirable places to live and work.
Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Co-Principal Investigator: Armistead Russell