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HSRI Receives $1.2 Million to Research Health Impacts From Vehicle-Related Air Pollution

September 28, 2021

UC Merced's Health Sciences Research Institute (HSRI) has been awarded a $1.2 million grant to study the effects of vehicle emissions on public health and the environment. This award is part of a $10 million program by the California Department of Justice to support research on the effects of vehicle emissions on human health.

HSRI, in partnership with the Stockton nonprofit organization Little Manila Rising, received the award to address the health impacts in the San Joaquin Valley. Specifically, the funds from the Automobile Emissions Research and Technology Fund grant will be used to launch a mobile air quality laboratory and health assessment clinic; deploy community air quality monitoring networks in Stockton and Fresno by installing 125 new PurpleAir monitors; and establish a permanent community-university air quality research and clinical center at UC Merced.

"I am thrilled to be working closely with community leaders in Stockton and other San Joaquin Valley communities who are leading the way to cleaner air and a healthier environment for our children," said Public Health Department Chair and Professor Asa Bradman, who will be leading the new San Joaquin Valley Center for Community Air Assessment and Injustice Reduction (SJV CC-AIR) at UC Merced. "Establishing a center for air pollution research and prevention directly aligns with UC Merced's goal to conduct state-of-the-art science that serves community needs, informs good decision-making and provides educational opportunities for our students, the future public health leaders of our state."

The fully integrated research center at UC Merced will be structured to continue long after the funded activities are completed. Meanwhile, the mobile lab and clinic will provide a venue for collecting environmental monitoring and biomedical and health information from residents living in south Stockton and surrounding underserved communities, with the potential for future expansion to other areas of the Valley. Such information is important for communities to make informed policy decisions and to advocate for community improvements.

"It's quite an honor to be entrusted with such an important endeavor," HSRI Director and health psychology Professor Deborah Wiebe said. "The mobile lab will enable researchers to carry out community-engaged - and community located - research that will empower historically overlooked communities in our region. We are eager to get started."

Air quality sensors will be placed around Fresno County as part of a partnership with the Fresno County Department of Public Health. Additionally, HSRI will be working with Little Manila Rising to install the air quality monitors throughout the city of Stockton, such as near schools and hospitals.

Dillon Delvo, executive director, and Matt Holmes, environmental justice programs director, both with Little Manila Rising, issued the following joint statement regarding the grant:

"We are excited to work with UC Merced to gather the data necessary to seek equitable solutions from historically poor air quality. Long have the marginalized communities of our area dealt with the negative health outcomes of racist public policy decisions around freeway development, industrial zoning, redlining and more. May our work find accountability for those who profit from the suffering of our community and the institutions which empower them so that we can truly heal and protect our children."

Multiple entities in California, including other universities and health departments, are recipients of the program's grants, which stem from a 2016 settlement with Volkswagen over its emission cheating scandal. The goal is to conduct the research particularly in communities that are under-resourced and overburdened, according to the state attorney general's office.