Our impact on water and the environment
You’ve probably heard of that famous sinking city in Italy. Venice stands upon a flawed structure known as a multiphase porous medium system. Such systems are all around us, for example: groundwater systems, petroleum reservoirs, geothermal heat sources, water filters, fuel cells, plants, human skin, and even our lungs.
Environmental Sciences and Engineering professors William G. Gray, PhD, and Cass T. Miller, PhD, and their colleagues and students work on multiphase porous media systems. Together, they developed the thermodynamically constrained averaging theory. This theory resolves many of the previous longstanding problems with modeling such systems and provides a framework to advance models of varying sophistication that can be applied broadly to multiphase porous medium systems. Miller and Gray’s work in this area provides tools that will improve design and management, and guide policy change for a wide range of health and environmental problems, including water supply, environmental quality restoration, and global climate change.
The United Arab Emirates is one of the most remarkable development stories of the modern world. In less than two generations, the UAE has grown from a collection of small coastal settlements to a modern, cosmopolitan nation with skyscrapers, modern industries, and superhighways – achieving what has taken other nations six generations. This development has improved quality and length of life, but has also placed an environmental burden on the health of its people.
Environmental health is measured by the excess number of deaths and illnesses due to exposure to pollutants in air, water, soil, and food as well as global climate change.
Referred to as the “environmental burden of disease,” experts at UNC have found that each year approximately:
- 200-1100 deaths are linked to outdoor air pollution
- 100-410 deaths are linked to indoor air pollution
- 60,000-200,000 doctor’s visits are due to coastal water pollution
- 16,000-63,000 doctor’s visits are due to drinking water contamination
To improve environmental health in the UAE, the Environment Agency–Abu Dhabi (EAD) selected and funded our School through a competitive proposal process to lead the National Environmental Health Project. Led by environmental sciences and engineering assistant professor, Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson, PhD, the project represents global interdisciplinary teamwork at its best. More than 20 faculty at the School work with numerous outside partner agencies in teams to assess outdoor air pollution, indoor air quality, water contamination and diet/exercise in the UAE.
He heads the FerryMon program (Ferry-based Monitoring of Surface Water Quality in North Carolina) recently featured in Science and Environmental Science & Technology magazines. In this program, the ferries are fitted with a flow-through system equipped with sensors that continuously analyze the water and send information concerning water quality to the program lab. The collected data provides needed information to scientists and water quality managers in many agencies, including the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and even the local fisheries, tourists and residents living on the water’s edge. Information on water quality status of the Sound and Neuse River Estuary is available on FerryMon’s website.
The FerryMon program, the first of its kind to be conducted in the United States, ensures that scientists and others are provided with real-time water quality information, allowing them to discover how changing events in our environment affect our coastal water resources.
Air pollution is a problem, but does it affect some persons more than others? Air pollution causes about 2 million premature deaths worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization. Biostatistics professor Haibo Zhou, PhD, develops statistical models to explain how our genetic makeup may influence our response to air pollution.
He is studying the relationships between genetics, ozone air pollution, and lung disease. He recently found that persons with a particular genotype (GSTM1) experience much greater airway inflammation when breathing in ozone polluted air compared to other persons. Zhou’s work may eventually lead to the development of special alerts for people with particular genetic susceptibilities. In addition to his research on lung disease and air pollution, Zhou also studies the effects of environmental toxins in other areas of health, such as fertility and pregnancy.