Sunday, October 28, 2012

Better Day Than I Expected!

Well, first day at APHA went a lot better than I expected...
Still haven't found the job of my future, but hope springs eternal.

What was a ton of fun was running into a lot of former students, colleagues, and meeting a few social epidemiologists. I was stoked to meet Dr. Camara Jones and chat with the author of the "reactions to race" module I'm writing a paper on at the moment. She was super friendly and sounded excited about my work with it.
Also met Dawn Richardson & Amy Schulz from Detroit whose work I've cited in that same paper, and after chatting about measures of segregation for a few minutes, she slipped it in that she uses one of my papers for her environmental health class. I was floored! I said if she wanted me to swing by her class, I'd fly out on my own dime, and I would!

Had an unexpectedly engrossing conversation with a woman working on injuries among loggers, shared a bunch of ideas about what might be causing the patterns she's seeing - injury rates seem to be coming down over time, a little bit. It brought up fond memories of Joe Masure, the guy who cut the trees that became our house in Vermont. That man was an artist whose canvas was forests. Alas, he would have been one of her statistics. Of all the anazing, technically challenging work he did, he met his demise sitting down for lunch, and having a branch just fall down on him. A great loss.

And to top the day off, chatted with Susan Cochrane about analyzing experiences of discrimination reported before and after the proposition 8 vote, in relation to how their neighbors voted on it.

That conversation about loggers and injuries yesterday has got me thinking I really need to spend more time reading up on and thinking about occupational health. Most of my work has been based on exposures based on where people live, but workers are often exposed to very particular things, and often at very high levels, there's a lot of opportunities there.
One study I've been mulling in the back of my head is the exposure of BART employees to dangerous levels of air pollution. You'd think that with the BART trains being electric, there wouldn't be much pollution, but when I carried an air monitor with me to and from work a few times, the pollution levels inside BART terminals, particularly Embarcadero, were much higher than anywhere else along my route, at home, or in my office. So I think it would be really interesting to plunk a few air monitors in various BART stations, or ask the workers to clip one to their belt for a few weeks, to better characterize their overall exposure levels, and also where and when during their day they get the biggest hit. Another thing that would be good to know is what's in that pollution - the monitor I had just detected small particles, but it doesn't say what those particles are made of. For the most part, it's just the size of the particles that matters for health, but what they are made of can help track down the source. Presumably the levels are highest at Embarcadero because of the Transbay Tunnel, but what in the Transbay is causing so much pollution, and what can be done about it?

Alright.... one more poster session this afternoon, then I'm headed home to make pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie, leek & onion sautee, steam-fried greens, rolls, and fruit salad.

Jeez, it's been a bit of a whirlwind. Made a bunch of great connections, including a couple very bright young stars, like John Blosnich at the VA, and Gilbert Gonzales at U Minnesota. Had a brief conversation with Healther Corliss and Sari Reisner thinking about getting different results from relative vs. absolute comparisons when looking for 'intersectionality' - I may need to write an in-depth blog post on the topic, but to be honest, I'm quite vexed (;-)) about how to resolve those differences. I'm not sure that there is a way to resolve them. For a close analogy to what I'm rambling about here, check out an earlier posting about racial disparities in mortality - the very same evidence shows that they are growing in relative terms and declining in absolute terms. So does that mean that we are making progress, or losing ground, on racial disparities? The short answer is "yes".


  1. It's just lovely reading this and feeling the energy this event has sparked up in you. :)

    Also, YUM!

    Re air pollution in BART - I'd be betting on ozone as the culprit. Ozone is produced by high voltage electrical arcing (most famously, lightning). Ozone is single molecules of oxygen looking for something to bind with, i.e. free radicals. It's a major ingredient in smog. Your monitor probably isn't detecting ozone itself but the smoggy afterproducts of it.

    1. I'm intrigued by the sparking and ozone theory - makes sense. My operating theory had been that it was probably coming from dust generated when the wheels grind on the rails... we may never know!