Students present air quality findings at conference

Environmental Health and Justice Program shapes students' career paths

From left to right: Meda Kisivuli '12, Liza Ansher '13, Vivian Zeng '14

When students in the Environmental Health and Justice Program uncovered the dangers nail salon employees face, they wanted to get the word out. The Academy of Sciences International Conference on Environmental Science in Houston was their latest opportunity.

Their study, conducted in Professor Laura Goldin’s program in cooperation with the Boston Public Health Commission, found the presence of fine particulate matter, carbon dioxide and total volatile organic compounds in the salons was much higher than generally accepted guidelines. In excess, these substances are known or highly suspected to cause skin, respiratory and reproductive-health problems.

The students conducted the study in fall semester 2011 but are continuing to share their findings – with employees of the 21 Boston salons at which they tested the air quality, at safe cosmetics and related events, on a Vietnamese cable program and, most recently, with conference attendees in Houston last month.

Three students – Liza Ansher ‘13, Meda Kisivuli ‘12 and Vivan Zeng ’14 – represented the class’ work, as well as research from Kisivuli’s senior thesis which was based on the coursework.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to Houston and be amongst a sea of international scientists,” Zeng says. “We were definitely the youngest people there. There were older scientists and Ph.D. students there.”

Zeng says the preparations for their presentation and the Q&A that followed were nerve-wracking, but, Kisivuli says, the trio rehearsed quite a bit and “were confident in ourselves by the time we presented.”

“We’ve been working on this since last year. It’s become a part of our lives,” Kisivuli says. “We were prepared.”

The students say following the presentation and the Q&A, which was interrupted because it ran too long due to audience interest, a number of Asian women in attendance -- the target population for their research -- approached them with questions.

“It was awesome because there were so many people from different places,” Zeng says. “It was interesting to see [research] from different countries – some places I can’t even pronounce – and it’s comforting to see we’re doing research here, they are doing research there, and it’s totally different but we’re all collecting data to help people.”

Zeng is prepping for the LSAT this summer and the conference helped confirm for her that she wants to work in the area of environmental health, advocating for environmental policy changes.

Kisivuli says the conference and the entire Environmental Health and Justice JBS helped inform her future career decisions as well.

 “It was really enlightening and definitely gave me an insight into what I really want to do in this field, which is to advocate for people, especially workers or people who are disadvantaged,” says Kisivuli.

Categories: International Affairs, Research, Science and Technology

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