In conversation with Dr. Gabriel Filippelli

Dr. Gabriel Filippelli is a Professor of Earth Sciences and Director of the Center for Urban Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. His research and writing is aimed at climate change impacts on the environmental and human health, including human exposures to harmful environmental components. He works in a number of settings, but particularly enjoys research in urban environments, relying strongly on citizen-science and community-engaged research to both understand the science and to motivate community action on environmental health. He publishes widely in scientific journals and informal venues, is the Editor-in-Chief of the journal GeoHealth, has research funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, is a Fellow of the International Association of GeoChemistry, and is an Air Quality Fellow of the U.S. State Department Embassy in Islamabad. Find Dr. Filippelli on Twitter.

A short Q&A with Dr. Filippelli :

Can you tell us a little about yourself? How did you get interested in science? 

I have always been fascinated by how nature works, with my first obsessions being planets and stars, followed shortly thereafter by earth sciences. After my undergraduate degree in Geology from the University of California, my wife and I spent over two years as US Peace Corps Volunteers, living on a small atoll in the Pacific Ocean in Kiribati. Living with ocean all around me, and even back then hearing about how climate change was going to threaten low lying islands like those of Kiribati, I dedicated my research career on how nature, climate, and humans interact. I started first by getting a PhD in Earth Sciences from the University of California, and then pursuing my passions as a professor.

You spent two weeks in Pakistan as a Science Envoy. What were your key takeaways from this experience? 

Because of my teaching schedule I was only able to spend two weeks in your beautiful country, giving lectures and engaging with various stakeholders on issues of air quality and human health in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. I found a strong passion from communities to clean up the environment, including the air, and a burgeoning commitments from the government to facilitating and enforcing environmental regulations. I also found extremely qualified researchers in universities there, many of them with a strong interest in air quality and health, even if they didn’t personally have expertise in these areas yet.

What are the three biggest challenges related to air pollution in South Asia/Pakistan? 

Because air pollution is a transboundary issue, it needs to be attacked from a regional perspective, and this coordination on monitoring and enforcement among countries may be a challenge.

There are generally inadequate air quality monitoring systems in place to identify the discrete sources of air pollutants and to then mitigate those sources.

Economic pressures seem to be pitting the environment against business development and employment—this is a false argument, as you can have a cleaner environment while also employing people and making money.

Are there any success stories you can highlight? 

Two success stories come to mind. Mexico City had terrible air pollution, made worse by its geographic location at a high altitude and surrounded by a ring of mountains, which trap the pollutants in the basin. Citizens became frustrated with the situation, and began developing community-driven air quality measurement networks to find out the most immediate sources of their pollution—in this case, the particulate emission from the buses in the heavily-used mass transit system. Communities agreed to a number of small measures (increased fares, taxes) in partnership with government funds to update the buses to low and zero emission vehicles, resulting in huge improvements in air quality.

Another example is Los Angeles, with its own geographic issue, mountains to the east, which similarly trapped bad air in the city. My wife grew up there, and remembers “smog days” when they couldn’t go outside of the classrooms in school. Los Angeles city officials began monitoring and identified that individual vehicles were the main issue, and started enforcing annual emission testing for personal vehicles. They had to pass the “smog test” every year to be registered for driving. This quickly became a state-wide law, and given the huge population of California, automakers started having to make improvements in all of their vehicles so that they could sell a car in the huge California market. So, one city forced a shift in the entire industry to clean up.

Are you working on any pollution-related projects in South Asia? 
Yes, I am working on several projects that initiated during my visit in Pakistan. They are strictly partnerships with talented university researchers in Pakistan, but I hope that they expand—my main interest in in helping to develop distributed air quality measurement networks and continue to translate the science of air quality and health effects in a way that normal people can understand, and then use in their own lives.

Scoping Study for South Asia Air Pollution

TERI India has completed a Scoping Study for South Asia Air Pollution in partnership with Ricardo Energy and Environment (United Kingdom), Nature Conservation Management (Bangladesh), Tribhuvan University (Nepal) and Sustainable Development Policy Institute (Pakistan).

This work was supported by the South Asia Research Hub, Department for International Development, Government of UK. Several knowledge gaps have been identified, and recommendations are provided.

Blurb from the report

DFID has commissioned a scoping study to address key knowledge and policy gaps around air pollution issues in South Asia. TERI was selected to undertake this study in four South Asian countries, namely, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The main aim of the scoping study is to assess the current state of evidence of air pollution in these countries and identify the research gaps and priority areas at country level and regional scale.

Op-Ed in Nepali Times: Solution to pollution

In the last one year, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about open data and how it can be helpful for improving the quality of air we breath everyday. In collaboration with Amod Karmacharya at Clean up Nepal, we distilled some of these thoughts and wrote an opinion piece in Nepali Times on the role of open data in help clean up the air we breathe. Read the piece, and let us know what you think.

Nepal Air Pollution Perception Survey

As part of a workshop organized by Air South Asia and Clean up Nepal in August 2018, groups of participants prepared specific work products based on issues of local importance. One group, comprised of Enna Mool, Dristy Shrestha and Prasidha Raj Neupane analysed results from a perception survey and prepared a short video.

The survey was conducted by Air South Asia and Clean Up Nepal on social media between August and November 2018 and 211 people submitted responses. The survey was aimed to understand the perceptions of people in Nepal on the issue of air pollution, including their assessment of major sources and health impacts as well as solutions to improve air quality.

Results from the survey were recently covered in Nepali Times.

You can also check out other videos of stakeholder interviews here.

For any other questions or comments, please write to info[dot]airsouthasia[dot]gmail[dot]com.

Waste burning in Birtamod, Nepal

As part of a workshop organized by Air South Asia and Clean up Nepal in August 2018, groups of participants prepared specific work products based on issues of local importance. One of the major sources of air pollution in Nepal is open burning of waste, which has increasingly come into the spotlight since the emissions are often in close proximity of residents.

One of the groups focused on the issue of waste burning in Birtamod, Jhapa and produced an infographic which was later disseminated in the local area.

MOOC on Air Pollution

***Crossposted from Air Quality in India***

Institut Mines-Télécom, France has launched a MOOC (massive open online course) on air quality! It focuses on issues related to air quality. Learn the basics of air pollution and its environmental, health, social and economical effects to better understand and address this problem.

The course starts on October 8, 2018 and is free and open to all. For details and registration, go here.

AQ Sensor workshop in Kathmandu

On October 4 and 5, 2018, Clean up Nepal is organizing a DIY Workshop on air quality sensors in collaboration with The Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) and Clean Power in Kathmandu.

The workshop will focus on the knowledge sharing for identifying research gaps in low-cost sensors, scaling up their application and enabling citizen science activities with AQ sensors. It will feature a sensor building session, supplemented with sessions on sensor data validation and quality control (QC), scope and application of sensors followed by a brainstorming sessions.

New report on Household Air Pollution and Noncommunicable Disease

HEI has published a new report on Household Air Pollution and Noncommunicable Disease, which provides a critical assessment of the state of the science examining the linkages between household air pollution formed by the burning of solid fuels and noncommunicable diseases. The report updates previous systematic reviews with the most recent studies and answers fundamental questions on the scientific basis for estimating health burden and what the evidence suggests about the exposure reductions necessary to achieve improved health outcomes. A Summary for Policy Makers is also available.

Key conclusions from the report:

  • Widespread use of solid fuel stoves by approximately one third of the world’s population imposes a heavy burden on global public health. The most recent estimate from the IHME GBD study estimates that in 2016, the number of deaths attributable to HAP was 2.6 million worldwide, making it the 8th leading risk factor globally, and with ambient air pollution, the leading environmental risk factor.
  • Overall, the new evidence reviewed in this report is broadly consistent with previous conclusions that HAP is strongly associated with numerous diseases.
  • Though data gaps and challenges in intervention effectiveness remain, epidemiological evidence indicates that reducing HAP exposures should be an effective way to improve public health worldwide.
  • Accelerating transitions to modern fuels and electricity that are most likely to achieve the necessary exposure reductions would be an ideal path forward.
  • Strategic efforts are now needed to change, and perhaps transform, energy systems to deliver high quality energy services to low-income households, not only for cooking, but also for heating and lighting.

Note: Taken from HEI’s website

Researchers Provide a Roadmap to Clean Up India’s Air

More than 660 million Indians live in areas that exceed the country’s standard for what is considered safe exposure to fine particulate pollution (PM2.5). To help improve India’s air quality, researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard Kennedy School have laid out five key evidence-based policy recommendations in a new report titled “A Roadmap Towards Cleaning India’s Air.”

“Air pollution is causing hundreds of millions of people in India to lead shorter and sicker lives,” said Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Professor in Economics and the director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) and the Tata Centre for Development at UChicago (TCD).

“However, we are at the dawn of a new era where the combination of advances in computing power and big data are creating radical new opportunities for environmental regulations to reduce air pollution, without undermining the urgent goal of robust economic growth in India.”

The recommendations include:

  • Improving emissions monitoring by better aligning incentives of auditors
  • Providing regulators with real-time data on polluters’ emissions
  • Applying monetary charges for excess emissions
  • Providing the public with information about polluters, and
  • Using markets to reduce abatement costs and pollution

Elaborating further, Rohini Pande, the Rafik Hariri Professor of International Political Economy and co-director of Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) at Harvard Kennedy School, said, “While the economic costs of pollution are high, and there is no easy solution, we remain optimistic because of the incredible innovations currently being experimented with throughout India.”

The policy brief was issued in conjunction with the National Conference on Innovations in Pollution Regulation, organized by EPIC-India and the TCD in New Delhi on 13 August, 2018. Aimed at facilitating knowledge sharing between policymakers, regulators and academics on pollution regulation and measurement, representatives from more than five state pollution control boards and experts from India and abroad attended the conference.

Download the policy brief here.

Note: The material listed here is based on the press released from EPIC-India.

Symposium: Air pollution in Kathmandu valley

The international conference on “Mountains in the Changing World” (MoChWo) is an annual event organized by the Kathmandu Institute of Applied Sciences ( It aims to provide a forum for international/national scholars, researchers, policy maker and students with opportunity to share their research findings and knowledge related to various aspects of mountains (see focus areas below). We are sure that this conference can be an effective and insightful for the benefit of people depending on mountains.

The third #MoChWo 2018 conference will be held in ancient town of Kathmandu on October, 2018.

As part of the conference, a symposium is being organized on air pollution in Kathmandu valley. This symposium will provide a platform for scientists, researchers and students working in the field of air pollution to discuss this common problem and share their research findings.

Details on the symposium are available here. Please visit the conference website for details.