George Mason University
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George Mason University

Mason Engineering researcher investigates air pollution’s impact on health

September 29, 2020   /   by Nanci Hellmich

Lucas Henneman, an assistant professor in the Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering, is studying the impact of air pollution on health.

Environmental researcher Lucas Henneman is investigating air pollution’s impact on health.

He uses large datasets and computer models to track pollution after it’s emitted from sources such as automobiles, coal power plants, and natural gas plants. The models help identify which people in nearby communities breathe in pollution.

“Each source leaves its air pollution fingerprint on the surrounding area, and we use those fingerprints to study how each source has impacted air quality over time and how that has affected people’s health,” says Henneman, an assistant professor in the Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering (CEIE). His research is funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the non-profit Health Effects Institute.

He has found that emission reductions from power plants and automobiles over the last 20 years have reduced the incidence of some health problems including cardiovascular and respiratory conditions.

Overall, the air quality is better in the United States now than it was 10, 20, and 50 years ago, he says.  “I like that my research starts with a success story. We’ve made impressive strides to clean our air, but there’s more work to be done to keep people healthy.”

Some estimates suggest that more than 100,000 Americans die each year from illnesses caused by air pollution, Henneman says. “We are developing models and devising new analytical techniques to create evidence for continued improvements in environmental policy. We’re looking at where to make emissions reductions, so we get the best return on our investment moving forward."

Henneman is also part of a group of experts looking at air pollution in China, which has made progress in recent years but still experiences unhealthy levels of air pollution, he says.

Laura Kosoglu, associate chair of CEIE, says, “Improving air quality is one of those goals where it’s not a question of if we should do it. The question is how to improve air quality efficiently and effectively, and Lucas’s research directly considers the impacts on public health. We are excited to have Lucas join our department.”

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