New Global Environmental Health Professor Contributes to Important Study on Ozone’s Global Health Toll

Susan Anenberg, PhD, who arrived last week as the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health’s (EOH’s) newest associate professor, is a coauthor on an important study published today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.  The study suggests that exposure to outdoor ozone pollution is responsible for substantially more deaths than previously understood. 

The new study reports the global burden of disease from ozone exposure using improved relationships between ozone exposure and respiratory mortality from the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention-II cohort study.  “The analysis is important because it finds that policies aimed at reducing ozone exposures could be more beneficial to public health than previously thought,” explains Anenberg, who has been serving as an adjunct faculty member since 2016.

In the new study, Anenberg’s coauthors include researchers from the University of Ottawa, University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute, the University of Colorado, the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and CIBER Epidemiología y Salud Pública.  They report that in 2010, long-term outdoor exposure to ozone air pollution contributed to about 1 million premature respiratory deaths globally – or approximately one in five of all respiratory deaths.  This is more than double the number of ozone-attributable deaths estimated using exposure-response relationships from an earlier analysis of the same epidemiological cohort.

The new study shows that Asia had the largest number of global ozone-attributable respiratory deaths, representing about 79% of the global total. India alone accounted for about 400,000 of the total, and China for about another 270,000. Africa, Europe and North America all had between 50,000 and 60,000 ozone-attributable deaths, with fewer in Latin America and Oceania.  The authors say their research suggests that the health benefits of air quality policies targeting ozone, which is expected to increase due to climate change, are more significant than previously thought.

Assessing air pollution in the developing world and the health benefits of mitigating air pollution and climate change are among Anenberg’s areas of professional expertise.  Earlier this year, she was the lead author of a publication in Nature which showed that diesel vehicle emissions, particularly those from on-road heavy-duty diesel trucks, were associated with 38,000 premature deaths in 2015, globally.  She and her colleagues—some of whom are also coauthors on her newest paper—at the DC-based International Council on Clean Transportation, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, the University of Colorado, and the University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute determined that adopting and enforcing next-generation standards could avoid approximately 174,000 premature deaths in 2040 globally related to exposure to ozone and small airborne PM2.5  particles.  Their article generated a lot of attention online and was covered by more than 140 news outlets and scientific blogs (details here).

Anenberg comes to her new position with varied experiences including helping teach the department’s Environmental & Occupational Health in a Sustainable World (PUBH 6004) and Global Environmental Health (PUBH 6128) classes.  She has been a co-founder and partner at Environmental Health Analytics, LLC, and the deputy managing director for recommendations at the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, where she helped advance actions to prevent industrial accidents. She also worked in the U.S. EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, where she led air pollution health risk analyses for the recent Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards review and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. As a senior advisor at the U.S. State Department, Anenberg advanced understanding of the health and climate benefits of mitigating short-lived climate pollutants and promoting clean cookstoves around the world.  Her publications include one with a recent EOH alumnus

"I actually took an introduction to environmental health course at GW back in 2005 while working at the U.S. Chemical Safety Board,” Anenberg says. “It inspired me to get a PhD in the field and devote my career to helping to ensure that no one gets sick from breathing the air or drinking water, regardless of who they are and where they live. I'm delighted to now be joining the department and look forward to getting to know the faculty, staff and students."