Air Pollution

Air pollution constitutes the single largest environmental health risk factor contributing to the global burden of excess disease and mortality (Global Burden of Disease 2010). 

In the US, environmental protection measures since the 1970s have led to substantial reductions in ambient pollutant levels, through emission control regulations and mitigation technologies. This progress has been fueled by policy-relevant research assessing exposures to pollution and associations with adverse health outcomes. Despite this, approximately 75 million people reside in counties across the US with pollution levels above the standards (USEPA, 2013). Moreover, pollution levels, in many parts of the world, continue to soar beyond those considered safe. 

Domestically and globally, there remain concerns about emissions from industry, vehicles, environmental tobacco smoke, and the burning of solid fuels such as coal, wood, and dung for cooking and home heating, particularly in developing countries. Air pollution and climate change are inherently interlinked within a complex system, with air pollution both driving and limiting global warming. Anticipated increases in natural threats like wildfires and increased ozone pollution with a warming climate raise concern for future public health. 

Faculty and students at Rollins are leading projects to address concerns regarding air pollution and human health. Bridging much of this work is the Southeastern Center for Air Pollution and Epidemiology (SCAPE;, a research collaboration between Emory University—with faculty and students from Environmental Health, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics—and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Examples of departmental research on air pollution and health:

  • Studying linkages between exposures to pollution mixtures that occur during typical automobile commuting and corresponding acute cardiorespiratory injury
  • Investigating whether ambient air pollution mixtures during pregnancy are associated with the risk of preterm delivery or reduced birth weight
  • Characterizing traffic pollution and metabolomic response in cohorts of individuals exposed to near road emissions 
  • Quantifying how emission programs and meteorological variations impact air quality and health

  • Estimating associations between ambient air pollution mixtures and emergency department visits and hospital admissions for cardiovascular and respiratory throughout the US 
  • Examining whether air pollution mixtures during the first year of life are associated with the incidence of childhood asthma 
  • Studying the effects of replacing polluting biomass cookstove with cleaner alternatives around the globe, and corresponding health benefits in newborn infants and their mothers

Air Faculty and Research Interests

Thomas Clasen, JD, PhD, Professor 
Air pollution, evaluation, global health, health outcomes, infectious disease, safe water, sanitation and hygiene

Stefanie Ebelt, ScD, Associate Professor
Cardiovascular and respiratory effects of ambient air quality, climate change

Donghai Liang, PhD, Research Assistant Professor
Air Pollution, exposure assessment, exposome, epidemiology, climate and health

Yang Liu, PhD, Professor
Satellite remote sensing, air pollution modeling, GIS, spatial statistics, climate change

Barry Ryan, PhD, Professor
Human exposure to environmental contaminants, pesticide exposure in children, environmental analytical chemistry, community air pollution

Jeremy Sarnat, ScD, Associate Professor
Air pollution, toxicology, exposure assessment

Liuhua Shi, ScD, Research Assistant Professor
Air pollution, climate and health, epidemiology, statistical modeling, exposure assessment

Robert Breiman, PhD (Global Health)

Howard Chang, PhD (Biostatistics and Bioinformatics)

Anke Huels, PhD (Epidemiology)

Eri Saikawa, PhD (Environmental Sciences)

Dennis Creech, MA (Southface Institute)

Lyndsey Darrow, PhD (School of Communicty Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno)

Roby Greenwald, PhD (Georgia State University)

Maria Mirabelli, PhD (CDC)

Ying Zhou, ScD (CDC)

EH 515

Air Quality in the Urban Environment: A Survey of Research Methods and Recent Findings


Sarnat, J.

EH 571

Global Environmental Health Policy: Power, Science and Justice


Clasen, Tom

EH 587

Introduction to Remote Sensing of the Environment and its Applications to Public Health


Liu, Yang

CEE 6792*

Air Pollution Meteorology


CEE 6794*

Atmospheric Chemical Modeling


*Courses available at Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Civil Engineering

Blumberg, Amelia - "Impact of air pollution on sickle cell disease exacerbations in Atlanta, Georgia." Advisor: Jeremy Sarnat 

Cornwell, Cheryl - "Short-term Exposure to Ambient Air Pollution and Acute Cardiorespiratory Biomarker Response in a Panel of Adults in Atlanta, GA." Advisor: Jeremy Sarnat 

Dong, Liansai - "Evaluation on the effectiveness of China’s Action Plan for Air Pollution Prevention and Control." Advisor: Yang Liu

Jolly, Maria - "Household Air Pollution (PM2.5) and Blood Pressure in Non-Hypertensive Adult Women Living in the Highlands of Peru." Advisor: Kyle Steenland

Li, Zhenjiang - "Application of high-resolution metabolomics in the CHDWB cohort to identify biological pathways perturbed by traffic-related air pollution." Advisor: Stefanie Sarnat

Electronic Theses and Dissertations 

Abdul Mutalip, Mohd Hatta - "Impact of ambient air pollution exposures on the incidence of Pulmonary Tuberculosis (PTB) in Malaysia."

Cooper, Czarina - "Early predictors of neurodevelopment and anthropometric growth of infants exposed to household air pollution in rural Guatemala."

Zhang, Jiachen - "Evaluation of associations between personal traffic-related air pollution exposure and metabolic response using high-resolution metabolomics."

One Earth Designs, Indoor Air Quality Research Associate (Xining, China): Conduct indoor air quality research in the Golok Prefecture of the Qinghai Province. Measure PM2.5 and black carbon and administering a qualitative survey. Results will be compared with existing indoor air quality measurements carried out by One Earth Designs in Huangnan Prefecture.

Georgia State University, Graduate Research Assistant (Atlanta, Georgia): Work under the supervision of a mentor at Georgia State University to assess the impact of vegetative barriers on the dispersion of traffic-related PM pollution. Identify appropriate monitoring sites that fulfill the scope and goals of this study, assemble and troubleshoot air pollution monitoring equipment in the field and lab as well as perform quality assurance. Develop skills in data cleaning and processing as well as conduct statistical analyses on the collected data, resulting in reports and data tables. 

Delagua Health Rwanda (Implementation) Ltd., Researcher (Kigali, Rwanda): Participate in implementation of a household water treatment and indoor air pollution intervention distributing water filters and cook stoves to households in rural Rwanda. Data collection and analysis will be conducted to assess baseline water and air quality to be used for further research on impact of the intervention.

Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Project Manager (Marietta, Georgia): Work as a Product Manager for UL Environment services related to indoor air quality, including management of the GREENGUARD Program (UL2818) related to chemical emissions of furniture, building materials, and other indoor products. Create and maintain product strategy and roadmap, develop and maintain operational plan for the product line, optimize product offering for growth, efficiency and scale and track product performance against financial goals, making proactive adjustments when needed.  

DeKalb Peachtree Airport Air and Noise Quality Study, Research Project Coordinator: Coordinate and execute the field sampling efforts as well as collaborate with professors to develop the analytic methods associated with the sampling techniques used in the study. Time is split mostly between field sampling around the airport and sampler prep/analysis in the laboratory.

Southeastern Center for Air Pollution and Epidemiology, Research Project Coordinator: Perform a large range of tasks for SCAPE including drafting all EPA-mandated reporting, organizing Scientific Advisory Council meetings, assisting with budgets, and serving as the Quality Manager.