Lab Matters Fall 2017 - Page 14

partner profile Patrick Breysse by Nancy Maddox, MPH, writer Patrick Breysse, PhD, CIH—a leader in the fields of environmental health and exposure assessment—assumed the directorship of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in late 2014. Before that, the prolific researcher spent nearly 30 years on the faculty of The Johns Hopkins University (JHU), studying issues linked to adverse environmental exposures. The Seattle native is a board certified industrial hygienist. His last positions at JHU—where he also earned his PhD in environmental engineering—were associate chair for educational programs in the Department Finally, work we are conducting at CDC has helped highlight the ubiquity of exposure to perfluorinated substances in drinking water across America. Potentially hundreds of millions of Americans are exposed to these substances, which are found in consumer products, industrial emissions and firefighting foam. of Environmental Health Sciences, director of the Industrial Hygiene Training Program and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Childhood Asthma in the Urban Environment. Your father was a University of Washington professor whose groundbreaking environmental health studies earned him the moniker, “The Ralph Nader of the Pacific Northwest.” When did your own interest in environmental health science begin? It started in high school, sitting around the dinner table talking about things my father was working on. I did a science project on noise levels encountered around the house. My father was frequently in the news because of his work, which stimulated a lot of curiosity on my part. He was a founding member of the Department of Environmental Health at the University of Washington. Many of the issues he dealt with in the 1960s and ‘70s are still plaguing us today. He encouraged me to specialize in occupational and environmental health. I think that was good advice. 12 LAB MATTERS Fall 2017 What have been some of your most notable, and surprising, research findings? Research conducted with my colleagues at Johns Hopkins produced some of the first observations identifying mouse allergen exposure as an important risk factor for asthmatic children in the inner city. Unlike cockroach allergen, which isn’t readily entrained into the air, mouse allergen is contained on smaller particles that can be suspended in air. I also collaborated on a number of studies looking at health effects of wildfire smoke exposure in the northeastern US coming from fires in Canada thousands of kilometers away. We detected an increase in indoor and outdoor air pollution and in hospitalizations for respiratory diseases. This finding is very relevant to what we’re seeing today, with wildfires across the country. I was also involved in the earliest studies of the health impact of biomass cooking in the developing world. This is a tremendous source of morbidity and mortality, and if we want to address the global burden of disease, this is one of the biggest places to start. While I began this work at Johns Hopkins, I continue to direct efforts on this issue at CDC. What is an industrial hygienist, and how are such professionals important to public health? An industrial hygienist is an environmental health specialist who concentrates on worker safety and health. When I was at JHU, I taught in the industrial hygiene training program and did research and consulted as an industrial hygienist. I’m very proud of being credentialed as a certified industrial hygienist. My background in industrial hygiene prepared me well for a broader career as an environmental health scientist. You have been involved in health and exposure studies across the globe, from Peru to Nepal. What have you learned about working with vulnerable communities? It’s a challenge to work with communities anywhere in the world. Much of the burden of environmental risk is borne by vulnerable populations. No matter which community we work with, we are ethically bound to receive informed consent to participate. This requires us to explain the risks associated with data collection (e.g. blood draws for biomonitoring studies) and to communicate the results back PublicHealthLabs @APHL