Amanda Northcross Joins the EOH Faculty

The Department of Environmental and Occupational Health is pleased to announce that Amanda Northcross, PhD has joined the faculty as an Assistant Professor. Northcross uses her background in environmental chemistry and engineering to identify exposures to air pollution constituents that can be linked to ill health – and to help communities monitor and reduce air pollution.

"Dr. Northcross brings to our department both an expertise in air pollution, which is a major contributor to illness and death, and a passion for empowering communities to study and address the pollutants in their lives," says Melissa Perry, ScD, MHS, Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. "We are delighted to have her on our faculty."

Connecting Chemistry and Health

Northcross had always been interested in taking things apart and seeing how they work – as a child, she experimented with science kits and helped her engineer father work on his car – but it wasn't until she started working in a laboratory that she became interested in public health. As a chemical-engineering undergraduate at the University of Michigan, the first study she worked on addressed soil lead levels and health effects, and "I liked that what we were doing was to understand health impact, and not just to make a new compound. At the time, I didn't realize that was public health." By the time she finished her doctoral dissertation, on secondary organic aerosol formation, she had decided to apply her scientific expertise to improving health.

Prior to joining the GW faculty, Northcross worked as a researcher in the Department of Environmental Health Science at University of California Berkeley's School of Public Health. She put her science skills to work monitoring exposures to smoke from wood-fired cookstoves in Guatemala, secondhand smoke in vehicles, and air pollution in California's Central Valley.

At UC Berkeley, Northcross also developed and taught an air pollution and monitoring class and served as co-director of the university's Short Term Educational Experiences for Research (STEER) in the Environmental Health Sciences program. As a teacher, Northcross enjoys helping students reach realizations like "oh, that's why that works!" and make the connection between what happens in a lab and how people live in the world.

Different Tools for Different Settings

As part of a study of cookstoves in Guatemala, Northcross helped select and test pollution monitors that were cost effective and portable, to better measure how much wood smoke study subjects were exposed to as they moved through different environments during the day. The research team studied whether supplying rural Guatemalan households with improved cookstoves to replace wood-burning stoves would reduce children's exposure to pollution and improve their respiratory health.

Northcross's newest research project is a randomized trial in Nigeria investigating whether replacing pregnant women's wood-fired cookstoves with clean-cooking ethanol stoves can reduce adverse pregnancy outcomes such as premature delivery and low birth weight.

"Air pollution is intrinsically linked to health, energy use, global development, climate change and policy Issues," Northcross explains. "Communities that are already economically disadvantaged are more likely to also be exposed to pollutants that can damage their health." Having good data on air pollution can help disadvantaged communities fight for environmental justice, and Northcross helped develop a low-cost, easy-to-use monitors for fine particulate matter that community groups can use to measure air pollution in their neighborhoods.

"Knowing how pollution forms and where it concentrates is important both for understanding the problem and for fixing it," says Northcross. "My goal is to contribute to interventions that allow people to breathe cleaner air and live healthier lives."