Research @SPEA Bloomington
With SPEA faculty as key contributors, IU President Michael A. McRobbie has announced that IU will invest $55 million to help Indiana develop actionable solutions that prepare businesses, farmers, communities, and individual Hoosiers for the effects of ongoing environmental change. The initiative – Prepared for Environmental Change – is the second project funded through IU’s $300 million Grand Challenges Program, which launched in 2015.
Indiana is already experiencing heavier spring flooding and hotter, drier summers, and the pace of change is expected to increase. The visible effects of changes in weather patterns also give rise to less obvious environmental changes that include altered growing seasons and migratory patterns, soil loss, and rapidly spreading diseases like Lyme disease, Zika virus and West Nile virus. Together, these complex changes threaten agricultural production, infrastructure stability, public health, and the diversity of plant and animal life.
The SPEA faculty involved in the initiative come from across the school and include Beth Gazley, Vicky Meretsky, Burnell Fischer, Adam Ward, Dan Cole, Brad Fulton, Shahzeen Attari, Lee Hamilton, and Sarah Mincey. Gazley is part of the 12-person IU team that wrote the initial proposal.
The initiative created an Environmental Resilience Institute as an “institute without walls” to organize the research and facilitate collaboration between IU’s world-class faculty and Indiana residents, businesses, nonprofits, and the public sector. Some of the partners include Cummins Inc., Citizens Energy Group, Nature Conservancy, and government officials from across Indiana.
Gazley is most closely affiliated with Urban Green Infrastructure, a program within the grant.
“Focusing on Indianapolis as a test city, I bring an interest in community resilience as it involves nonprofit organizations and the citizens they interact with,” she said. “For example, even with a lot of effort from the Red Cross, it’s very hard to get citizens to take emergency preparedness seriously. So the multi-disciplinary nature of this large project is what got me involved. It allows me to partner with other scientists producing the forecasting data and studying human risk behavior. The solution to large societal problems rests in these large, interdisciplinary research teams. ”
In addition to Urban Green Infrastructure, the IU researchers – led by internationally acclaimed scientist Ellen Ketterson, IU Distinguished Professor of Biology – are building other Indiana-specific projections of environmental change that equip governments, businesses, and community groups to respond with the right investments in agriculture, industry, infrastructure, and public health and safety.
With community-based readiness, discussion and understanding as core goals, the initiative looks at new strategies for communicating findings and recommendations with Hoosiers in ways that are clear, precise, and understandable. For example, the team will inaugurate a Hoosier Resiliency Index to help Indiana communities track and enhance responsiveness to immediate and long-term challenges caused by environmental change.
“We aren’t here to debate partisan differences on climate change or what might happen years from now,” Ketterson said. “We’re here because we can already see the year-round effects of the changes in our environment.
Ketterson said her team’s research will lead to a wide variety of local partnerships across many industries. For example, the team is working with the Indianapolis Office of Sustainability, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, and Citizens Energy Group to apply environmental and social research to pioneer a new model for water re-use in Pleasant Run Creek. This project will provide resiliency to the fresh water supply, as well as reduce flooding risk, enhance carbon sequestration, improve the wildlife corridor, and provide for economic and neighborhood revitalization. The IU research team will also pilot a program that helps farmers and land owners forecast soil and water conditions.
SPEA professor Shahzeen Attari wins 2018 Andrew Carnegie fellowship
Carnegie Corporation has named SPEA’s Shahzeen Attari a 2018 Andrew Carnegie Fellow. Attari was chosen as one of 31 fellows from nearly 300 nominees in the fields of science, law, technology, business, and public policy.
Her research focuses on environmental decision–making at the individual level, and she studies the biases that shape people’s judgments and decisions about resource use and climate change. With drastic impacts from climate change likely in the decades to come, Attari says there is an urgent need for tools that transform political will and public support for climate policies.
“I am grateful to the Carnegie Corporation for supporting my work on motivating climate change solutions by fusing facts and feelings,” Attari said.
As a Carnegie Fellow, she plans to address three specific challenges:
- Identify solutions for decarbonizing the U.S. energy system that experts regard as both effective and politically feasible.
- Convert the solutions into simple heuristics and test the psychological barriers that prevent public support for the solutions.
- Identify how to provide emotional and cognitive scaffolding to these expertinspired heuristics, by fusing facts and feelings, to motivate us to accept the solutions.
“We need to move beyond useless feel-good behaviors and towards actions and policies that can result in meaningful change at a critical time,” Attari said. “My goal is to deepen our understanding of engineering, environmental science and cognitive science that is at the intersection of solving this important problem. By working at the intersection of these fields, I aim to develop memorable, engaging, and effective sustainability heuristics related to individual behavior and policy support. Those are mental shortcuts that allow people to make decisions quickly and efficiently.”
New study: Removing flame retardants from nap mats reduces kids’ exposures in childcares
Removing chemical flame retardants from foam nap mats in childcare centers can lower levels of the chemicals in dust by as much as 90 percent, a new peer-reviewed study has found. The study, appearing in Environmental Pollution, is the first time researchers have shown that eliminating a single source of flame retardants – nap mats – can significantly reduce children’s exposure to hazardous chemicals that are linked to cancer, obesity, and nervous system harm.
Children are exposed to flame retardants in nap mats when the chemicals escape the mats, contaminate dust and air, and then are inhaled or ingested. Childcares that use foam nap mats have been found to have higher levels of flame retardants in their dust. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of chemicals as their bodies are still developing.
Researchers from SPEA and Toxic-Free Future tested air and dust samples from seven Seattle childcare providers before and after replacing flame retardant-treated nap mats with flame-retardant-free mats. Drs. Amina Salamova, Marta Venier, and William Stubbings of SPEA analyzed the dust and air for flame retardants found in the mats, including chlorinated Tris and chemicals that make up the commercial flame retardant mixture Firemaster 550.
The study shows that nap mats can be a significant source of exposure for kids to flame retardants. Specifically, after removing the flame-retardant-treated mats, researchers found:
- A 90 percent decrease in the levels of BEHTBP (bis(2-ethylhexyl) tetrabromophthalate), a component of the commercial flame retardant mixture Firemaster 550®. Firemaster 550® has been linked to obesity and early puberty.
- A 79 percent decrease in the levels of EHTBB (2-ethyl-hexyl tetrabromobenzoate), another flame retardant found in Firemaster 550®.
- A 40 percent decrease in the levels of chlorinated Tris (TDCPP, tris(1,3-dichloroisopropyl) phosphate). Chlorinated Tris has been banned in children’s products in five states, including Washington. It is designated as a carcinogen by the State of California.
- A 65 percent decrease in the levels of TBPP (tris(4-butylphenyl)phosphate)), a flame retardant and plasticizer considered highly bioaccumulative and high hazard for systemic toxicity by the USEPA.
“Developing interventions to reduce exposures to flame retardants and other environmental contaminants is very important in providing solutions for making the childcare environment where children spend 8-10 hours every day a healthier place,” said Dr. Amina Salamova, Assistant Scientist at SPEA and senior author of the study.
While some parents and childcare centers may want to purchase nap mats without flame retardants or other harmful chemicals, there aren’t many options available, especially mats that are affordable for everyone. Many brands that don’t contain flame retardants are made with vinyl, a soft plastic that can contain chemicals called phthalates that can disrupt hormones. The one brand researchers did find was free of flame retardants and vinyl was one made by Community Playthings. Information for childcare providers and parents on reducing flame retardant exposures can be found at: toxicfreefuture.org/napmats.
The results reinforce the need to phase out the use of hazardous flame retardants in consumer products. Several states have acted to ban some flame retardants in children’s products, including Washington. Last September, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a warning to consumers, retailers, and manufacturers to avoid using products containing some of the most harmful flame retardants in children’s products called “organohalogens.” The CPSC also voted to move forward with a ban on these chemicals, but no timetable has been announced.
Health experts are calling on manufacturers to remove toxic flame retardants from nap mats and other products, and for state policymakers and the CPSC to ban the use of the chemicals in nap mats and other products. (Story courtesy: Toxic-Free Future)
Medicaid expansion leads to increase in early-stage cancer diagnoses
The Affordable Care Act led to an increase in the number of cancer diagnoses – particularly those at early stages – in states where Medicaid was expanded, according to research co-authored by SPEA’s Kosali Simon.
The research, published in the American Journal of Public Health, suggests that public health insurance may increase cancer detection, which can lead to fewer cancer deaths and better outcomes for patients.
“Early detection is a key step to reducing cancer mortality, and our findings suggest that Medicaid expansion under the ACA led to more and earlier cancer detection,” said the study’s corresponding author, Aparna Soni, a doctoral candidate in business economics and public policy in the IU Kelley School of Business.
Previous research by Soni and Simon, the Class of 1948 Herman B Wells Endowed Professor at SPEA, found that the Affordable Care Act increased insurance coverage among people already diagnosed with cancer.
Other co-authors of “Effect of Medicaid Expansions of 2014 on Overall and Early-Stage Cancer Diagnoses” were Lindsay Sabik, associate professor in health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh; and John Cawley, professor of policy analysis and management and of economics at Cornell University.
In their study, researchers looked at cancer registry data from 2010 through 2014 to estimate post-ACA changes in county-level cancer diagnosis rates, both overall and by stages, in states that expanded Medicaid in 2014 versus those that did not. Medicaid expansion led to an increase of 15.4 early-stage diagnoses per 100,000 people, or 6.4 percent, from pre-ACA levels.
There was no detectable impact on late-stage diagnoses. The overall cancer diagnosis rate increased by 3.4 percent in Medicaid expansion states, compared with non-expansion states.
“These data indicate increases in health coverage lead to increased early detection, which raises the overall diagnosis rate,” Simon said. “Medical research already shows that early cancer diagnosis is important for increasing the probability of successful treatment, reducing mortality, and controlling costs. However, Medicaid expansion appears to have no effect on the diagnosis of late-stage cancers.”
Using information about patients’ age, tumor location, and whether the cancer could be screened for, the researchers found that the increase in early-stage diagnoses was largely seen among those age 35 to 54 and with cancers that are easiest to detect.
“The fact that the increase in early-stage diagnoses was concentrated in cancers amenable to screening is consistent with the increase resulting from the expansion of health insurance and access to care,” the researchers wrote in the paper.
The increase in overall diagnoses was largely driven by increases among those age 45 to 54 and among those with prostate cancer.
Quotable & Notable: SPEA Bloomington and its faculty in the news
Neue Ideen sind die Währung, die jeder haben will – ‘New ideas are the currency everyone wants.’DAVID AUDRETSCH, in Austria’s Wirtschaftskammer Österreich.
There is this trend of what we call the whack-amole game of replacing one molecule with another which is very similar.MARTA VENIER, on chemicals that threaten bald eagles in an NPR story.
I don’t think climate change is going to be this gradual kind of thing. It’s going to be punctuated: You have a hurricane like Matthew. And then you get another one like Irma a year later. And maybe you get a third one in the next two years. Then, you’re going to start seeing effects.CHRIS CRAFT, in Atlanta Magazine on threats to Georgia wetlands.
The guns are part of their identity, part of their self- worth, how they protect [themselves], what helps to define [them] as individuals, keeps them safe from the bad guys. It’s the idealization of the American myth of the minutemen and gunslinger of the Wild West.PAUL HELMKE, in Teen Vogue on so-called “gundamentalists.”
The next time you stand as the Pledge is recited, think about what you’re saying. It’s deceptively simple. But it packs a powerful message.LEE HAMILTON, in the Bloomington Herald-Times.
Since we know so little about the toxic effects, we should be careful about any exposures to these chemicals.AMINA SALAMOVA, in the Seattle Times on what can be hidden in daycare nap mats.
It is reasonable for us to expect the head of a federal agency to show up for work.JILL LONG THOMPSON, in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette on the absent chair of the National Credit Union Administration Board.
I love this state and I love the people. I’m very happy to be working here.MOHAMAD OSMAN MOHAMAD (BSPA ’17) in the Indy Star on his position at Eli Lilly and his efforts to assist refugees.
We tend to tag the provision of basic public services such as water and electricity as technical challenges. This means we look primarily at engineering innovation, price reforms, or privatization to resolve these problems. . . . But technical solutions alone don’t always solve problems, because politics — at the local level and nationally — also shapes service delivery.JENNIFER BRASS, and co-authors, writing in the Washington Post on South Africa’s water crisis.
Tax lawyers are very good at dreaming up these things.BRAD HEIM, Bloomberg on a new tax loophole.