San Ysidro Air Study launches website for real-time air quality monitoring data

The San Ysidro Air Study will be unveiling its new website on June 9, 2017 in an Open House event hosted by study collaborator, Casa Familiar.

This 2-year study funded by CalEPA Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) aims to improve community understanding of air quality at the US-Mexico border region through a community-engaged research process of collecting measurements from 13 next-generation air quality monitors.

The research team includes Casa Familiar, San Diego State University, and the University of Washington.  To learn more about this study, visit the study website, which has webinars, community meeting notes, and links to news stories:

Our new website will provide residents and government agencies in San Ysidro with real-time air quality data in the form of maps and charts.  PM2.5, CO, NO, NO2, and O3 data will be available.  Also, concerned citizens and researchers may request access to historical data collected by the air quality monitoring network via the website.

Additionally, data from the San Ysidro monitoring are being provided to the Identifying Violations Affecting Neighborhoods (IVAN) system for integrated air mapping and environmental reporting among different communities in California.

Our new San Ysidro Air Study website address will be posted here on June 9th.

New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of… Get’s our latest generation of Community Air Monitors

We’re installing our latest generation of Internet-connected community air monitors (PM particle sizer, 4 gas pollutants) this week in New York City as part of a new MESA study of cardiovascular health led by PI Joel Kaufman at the Unversity of Washington.

Special thanks to PhD student Graeme Carvlin for leading the team of undergrads that are building our current batch of monitors that will be installed in the 6 MESA cities this year, as well as the deployment team and our local collaborators in each of the cities.

These new monitors will enable the next generation of air pollution exposure assessments for multi-city epemiologic studies that are based on real-time, continous spatiotemporally rich environmental data.

New center to develop mobile apps to improve Native American cardiovascular health

National Vital Statistics System, CDC, and the U.S. Census Bureau

Hypertension is a leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease, affecting 1 in 3 US adults or about 78 million people. It is very common as well as understudied in American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. A new center called Native-Controlling Hypertension and Risk Through Technology (Native-CHART) will bring together academic and community partners, who will conduct research and outreach to improve hypertension in these populations.

Native-CHART is one of two new centers funded by the NIH National Intitutes of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) that together will share $20 million over the next 5 years. Native-CHART is co-led by Dedra Buchwald at Washington State University and Spero Manson at the University of Colorado. The center will have broad reach across Native populations, including Satellite Centers in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountain, Plains, Southwest, Northern, and Southeast regions.

New technologies will play a key role in Native-CHART, both as tools for research, as well as tools for engaging with groups in the center. For instance, mobile technologies will play a role in collecting objective data on a variety of risk factors including diet, food environments, and physical activity for hypertension.  Dr. Edmund Seto’s group will help develop mobile apps that track aspects of cardiovascular risk for the center.

Patent Application for a new passive low-cost air pollution sensor

PM air pollution is responsiblity for close to a million deaths and is associated with considerable poor health around the world.

Collaborators from UW Engineering and I filed a new patent for a “Passive Low-Cost Air Pollution Sensor”.  The invention will hopefully pave the way more accurate and precise assessments of PM levels in the developing world, using readily available and inexpensive supplies.

San Ysidro Community-Based Air Monitoring Study at the California-Mexico Border

Funded by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment of CalEPA, my research group has partnered with Casa Familiar and San Diego State University to conduct a 2-year community-based air monitoring study in the San Ysidro community at the CA-Mexico border.

Motivated by the need to better inform CalEnviroScreen — an Environmental Justice tool developed by CalEPA to map communities disproportionately impacted by environmental health hazards, the study will combine local knowledge from community residents with air pollution monitoring tools and methods provided by academic partners to conduct a year of intensive monitoring within the border community.

Border communities, such as San Ysidro, may face air pollution impacts not felt by other CA communities and existing monitors may not be adequate to measure this impact. Being close to the international border may result in exposure to air pollution from lines of idling vehicles at the Ports of Entry, trade-related commercial trucks, and transport of pollutants from Mexico.

The study will leverage next-generation air quality sensors that measure PM2.5, PM10, CO, NO, NO2, and O3, with high-end research instruments and methods that measure BC, EC/OC, metals, and diesel markers.

The research team recently gave a webinar hosted by CalEPA that discussed Citizen Science, and specifically the goals of the San Ysidro study, the challenges and opportunities for academia and community residents to work together to improve understanding of air pollution in communities and to improve tools like CalEnviroScreen.

The first monitor in this new community monitoring network was officially launched on August 26, 2016.

More information about the study can be found on the project website: 

If you have questions, I’m the study PI:


CalFit for the European PHENOTYPE Study

The European PHENOTYPE study is investigating the relationship between the natural environment and human health and wellbeing. The study led by Mark Nieuwenhuijsen at ISGlobal (previously CREAL) aims to explore people’s exposures to greenspace through the use of a variety of assessment methods.

One approach that was used in a subset of approximately 400 PHENOTYPE study subjects in four European countries was an Android smartphone app.  The app, CalFit was developed by my research group explicitly for exposure assessment studies. The app tracks time-location patterns using GPS and physical activity using accelerometry.  Different versions of the CalFit app were developed to fit the needs of different environmental health studies, including studies in the US and in China.  For the PHENOTYPE study an Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) module was developed that asked study subjects to answer occasional questions about their affective state (e.g., stress, happiness, etc.) in different environments. The EMA also prompts subjects to collect videos of their surroundings.

The app was designed for Android version 2.3.6, and was only deployed on Samsung Galaxy Y study phones. Since development of the CalFit app was carried out a few years ago, no testing on current generation Android phones has been done, and it is unclear whether the app still operates as designed with newer versions of Android or newer phones.  The app is available here, without support and with minimal documentation:

CalFit Program v20130716 with Dutch, English, Lithuanian, and Spanish PHENOTYPE surveys

While CalFit is no longer being supported, my group is developing a new app from scratch to leverage the current capabilities of smart devices. It will be released under a new name, and with a new focus not only on environmental exposure assessment, but on behavioral health.  Look for this new app to be used in the NIH “Native-Controlling Hypertension and Risk Through Technology (NATIVE-CHART)” study led by Dedra Buchwald at Washington State University.

If you have interest in using the new app, please contact me: Edmund Seto


UW awarded EPA Air Pollution Monitoring for Communities Grant

Yakama youth engaged in the EnviroMentors program talk to their congressman (photo from C. Karr)

A new grant from the EPA’s Air Pollution Monitoring for Communities program will enable University of Washington air pollution researchers to partner with the Yakima Valley’s Heritage University faculty whose undergraduates represent the community’s population of predominately Yakama Nation and Latino immigrants. Working with local students, the partners aim to address key scientific questions pertaining to woodsmoke exposures, health effects, and interventions in Yakima. The group will use both sophisticated research instruments as well as next-generation low-cost sensors for use in these collaborative studies, and explore effective strategies for data dissemination and communication to the broader community. A goal of the project is to engage Heritage students to be community problem-solvers, using air quality monitoring information to address issues of woodsmoke air pollution that are responsive to multi-generational and multi-cultural perspectives and concerns.

The project is expected to produce a new air pollution curriculum adaptable for use in other mentored student research settings incorporating use of next-generation sensors. The investigators expect 90 high school students and 12 undergraduates to benefit from the new curriculum over the course of the study.

The principal investigator of the project is UW Professor, Catherine Karr.  Collaborators on the study include Jessica Black from Heritage University, and UW faculty Tim Larson, Edmund Seto, Chris Simpson, and Michael Yost.

The Seto Lab will be responsible for developing the next-generation sensor platform for monitoring woodsmoke for the project.

UW’s grant is one of six awarded in US EPA’s Air Pollution Monitoring for Communities program.  

New Study Predict How Much A Person Will Eat From Smartphone Data

Increasingly smartphones are being used be people to log various aspects of their life. Recently my group published a paper in which we analyzed data from individuals’ smartphones, to see whether we could model their dietary patterns. Rather than compare across people, we focused on the patterns that exist for specific individuals. We examined whether the portion size for each person’s meal tended to followed a routine based on time of day, whether the portion size was related to how much physical activity they engaged in before the meal, or whether the their “food environment” — the quantity, diversity, and types of food establishments around them — influenced the portion size. We also looked at the person’s mood to see it influenced their meals. All of these data were collected from a smartphone app we developed (voice-annotated video recording of meals, accelerometry for physical activity, GPS for food environments, and occasional prompts to ask about mood).

What we found was fascinating. In some cases, certain individuals exhibited fairly routine eating patterns, while for other individuals, exercise before the meal was an important factor in determining their portion sizes. However, we were surprised to find that across all of the subjects, the food environment tended to be an important factor for explaining portion sizes.

This study was based on data from a fairly small group of test subjects who were only monitored over a short period of time, but we now have hundreds of gigabytes of similar data for which we will be doing the same sort of analyses.

The work provides an early glimpse of our ability to integrate various different sorts of sensor, self-report data, contextual data to model specific individuals behavioral patterns.  Moving forward, we are interested in evaluating how well these models work for prediction, and eventual use for tailoring behavioral interventions to specific individuals to help them live healthier lives.

This study was recently published in the journal PLoS ONE:


My NIEHS Webinar: Environmental Sensors, Citizen Science, and Quantified Self

On April 5, I gave a webinar “Sensor Technologies for Improving Environmental Health: Juxtaposing the Citizen Science and Quantified Self Movements”.  Thanks to all who attended, and especially to those who provided questions/feedback on my group’s work.  Here’s the abstract:

In recent years, numerous sensor technologies have been developed that offer the ability to collect detailed data on environmental conditions and their impact on human health. These technologies will likely change how communities and individuals access environmental health information, and the amount of data that are available for improved decision-making.

An example of the potential impact of emerging sensor technology can be seen through the development of low-cost direct-reading air pollution monitors many of which are now commercially available.  While researchers continue to conduct studies to answer the fundamental question of “how well do these new devices perform?,” perhaps the more intriguing question is “if useful air pollution data could be obtained from a device that many people could afford, how would this change our understanding of air pollution-related health?”

This webinar will discuss multiple answers to this question, including how community groups, Citizen Science, epidemiologic researchers and individuals may benefit from these new sensors.

One answer to the above question is that community-based environmental groups may have better access to monitoring technologies to document environmental injustices. In some respects, this is not entirely new, as community groups have for many years documented their local knowledge of air pollution levels in much more detail than what was possible through government monitoring efforts. The difference now, is that monitors are more readily available for these groups to collect their own objective measurements. Because of the low cost of each monitor, it is not implausible to imagine entire communities blanketed with a high density of air pollution sensors. And, in fact, NIEHS-funded research is demonstrating that such community-engaged monitoring networks are possible.

Slightly different from the community-initiated and led research described above, new air pollution technologies are enabling a new form of environmental research within our communities, called Citizen Science. While there are different models for conducting Citizen Science, the more intriguing examples are those that are organized over the Internet, involve many individuals who work together to crowdsource data, and result in massive amounts of data that are shared openly. In some cases, technology-savvy Citizen Science leaders are developing and sharing their designs for new monitors, providing proof of concept for how measurements can be made with low-cost sensors.

Another possible answer to the above question is that an increasing number of environmental epidemiology studies may use sensors to conduct personal exposure assessments. Sensors are not only getting cheaper, but also battery-powered and are getting smaller in size, making them increasingly practical for use in a variety of cohort studies. An exciting example of NIH support for this is the new Pediatric Research Using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems (PRISMS) program, within which various research groups are developing new wearable sensors that can measure environmental exposures that can be related to health symptoms for future children’s asthma studies. An exciting aspect of the PRISMS program is the recognition that future sensors will likely need to be network-enabled, which would provide more immediate data from research subjects, as well as also enable more immediate feedback to research subjects.

While NIH programs like PRISMS are fostering future sensor technologies for epidemiologic research, the private sector is also commercializing air pollution monitors for the consumer health and wellness market. Smart technologies (e.g., smartphone apps, smart watches, fitness trackers, GPS loggers, etc.) used to be primarily marketed to the Quantified Self movement – individuals who use devices and data to track and optimize various aspects of their life – air pollution monitors being just one of latest devices that such an individual may want to use. But, there is a large group of individuals who have pre-existing health conditions and may be susceptible to air pollution exposures, which may be interested in understanding their air pollution exposures by either having a household or wearable monitor. While these individuals may be the greatest market for these new air pollution monitors, it remains unclear how people will respond to personalized air pollution exposure data (e.g., what are the best ways to communicate individual-based air pollution exposures and risks?), or whether people have practical ways to manage their exposures.

In summary, the recent developments in low-cost air pollution monitoring devices illustrate various opportunities for improving environmental health through sensor technologies. The benefits to traditional community-based and epidemiologic research studies are somewhat clear, with new monitoring devices potentially providing data for more persons, places, and times than previously possible. Less clear, but no less exciting because of the reach and numbers of people potentially involved, are the novel ways in which new air pollution monitors are being adopted into Citizen Science and consumer health and wellness applications.

More, and an eventual link to Youtube can be found here:

Seattle Seasonal Affective Disorder


Heather McAuliffe is a citizen scientist in Seattle, who I met last year. She’s collected tons of air pollution monitoring data on her bicycle, which she contributes to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to improve our understanding of air pollution along streets in the city.

She’s recently written about another environmental problem of Seattle — the grey skies and short days during the wintertime.