EP137 Fieldwork Findings: Researching Lead Contaminations with Hsin-Yi Chang and Jordan Neisler

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EP137 Fieldwork Findings: Researching Lead Contaminations with Hsin-Yi Chang and Jordan Neisler

Aman Chopra: Folks, welcome back to another episode of the I am GPH podcast and today we're very excited to introduce you and talk about the world of environmental public health as we host two of our GPH Environmental Public Health Superstars, Jordan Neisler and Hsin-Yi Chang. Both of these individuals are the personification of specialized yet well-rounded students who explored their niche within environmental and public health, found and collaborated with mentors and also contributed to awesome articles and journals such as The Wall Street Journal. We can't wait to hear all about you two and your journeys. Jordan and Hsin-Yi, welcome to the I AM GPH  Podcast. We're glad to have you here.

Jordan: Thank you. Happy to be here.

Hsin-Yi: Thank you.

Aman Chopra:  Hsin-Yi, why don't you start by… Since I've given a brief introduction of what you two do, I'd love to hear how your journey has evolved and what you two are doing right now in GPH and in your life outside of GPH as well.

Hsin-Yi: Yeah, sure. So now I do my internship in GPH with Professor Caravanos and we do the lead contaminated soil sample project. So we take a lot of soil samples, we use x-ray fluorescent. It's a very convenient and helpful instruments can gather the level in soil immediately. Yeah, and we do have work with Susan, which is a journalist in Wall Street Journal. So we focus on old cable, which will have the lead exposure to children or older. And some of our data are already publish in Wall Street Journal. Then American is wrapped in miles of toxic lead capitals. So it's very cool experience during my internship.

Aman Chopra: And then what's your major, when do you graduate, which area are you focusing on in public health?

Hsin-Yi: Okay, so now I'm a second year MPH student. My concentration is environmental science and I will graduate in 2024.

Aman Chopra: All right, awesome. Some of you might be watching the podcast, Hsin-Yi

you might have already graduated at the time you're watching this, but as of the time of this podcast, Hsin-Yi has one more year to go. All right. 

Hsin-Yi: Yeah.

Aman Chopra: What about you Jordan?

Jordan: Yeah, so I actually just graduated this past May with my master's degree in environmental public health sciences, so exact same degree as Hsin-Yi. I got to work on the project with Dr. Caravanos this past spring. I was his course assistant for one of his courses and through that he invited me and Hsin-Yi on board to help with lead testing and we collaborated with the Wall Street Journal on a big project and that brought us to Louisiana to do a bunch of lead testing and it's a great experience.

Aman Chopra: Oh, I have so many questions around that that I'm so curious to hear about. So before we open to the specifics of the journey, there's a lot of people that might be watching this podcast that have no idea what environmental public health is. So can you two describe this world you two are involved in of environmental public health, what does it mean? How do you describe this to people?

Hsin-Yi: Yeah, I would describe environmental public health study how the environment affects human health, including factor like air, water, food waste, and toxin exposure. So environmental health aims to prevent health problem from these factors and ensuring safe and healthy community by managing the environment, public health relationship.

Aman Chopra: Ah, okay. So it's a combination of basically everything that influences our environment.

Hsin-Yi: Yeah. 

Aman Chopra: All right, what do you add something to that Jordan, for you? Is there something unique that you see environmental public health in your eyes?

Jordan: I mean, I think Hsin-Yi really hit the nail on the head with that one. But basically just like the prevention and control of environmentally related diseases that we focus on. So like lead based exposures, like children on like water hazards and drinking water and I mean like air pollution like can go on and on really anything in an environment that affects human health.

Aman Chopra: Anything in the environment that affects human health. And how would you two… give me some examples of things that are in this category of environmental public health, but most people actually would have no idea that it's a part of environmental public health. What comes to your minds when you think of that?

Jordan: I mean my mind personally always goes towards like water based health. So all of the stuff just dealing with ensuring like down to like the pipes that our water travels in are safe and they are coated in like lead because then they can pick up contaminants and go from your faucet and managing different water sources in ways basically  there's someone always testing our water supply to ensure that it's not contaminated. So it's safe for drinking, but also it's safe for just like using in our like toilet and showers and just like wastewater management in general. I think a lot of people kind of, it's not glamorous so people don't think about it, but it's like a huge part of environmental public health and without proper management, it would be a mess.

Aman Chopra: Wow. I mean the something as simple as water that most of us see on a daily basis around us in different environments as so much would contribute to environmental public health. I've gotta think every time I open a faucet now, I've gotta think about that.

Jordan: Yeah, it's a lot more complex than you think.

Aman Chopra: Indeed.

Hsin-Yi: Yeah. So for me, I would like to say the recent project we have been working out about the latest exposure found old cables because old cable which wrap in the lead can contaminate like water and also soils. So people will inhale or ingest it. So, but we haven't looked at this topic before. It wasn't being researched and preventing lead painting. So now I really hope that the telecom company will take care of this problem with (indistinct) cables they can deal with it properly. 

Aman Chopra: Wait, so tell me more about this cable thing. I have not thought of cables at all. How do cables have an impact on our environment?

Hsin-Yi: Yeah, because like all cables lay all wrapped in the lead like lead, pan, lead.

So like after running or something, lead will just fall down to the soil or water.

Aman Chopra: Oh. 

Hsin-Yi: Yeah and after like if the children, they play in the backyard or playground and they play after they play and they'll like just eat the soil and like ingesting into their body and they will have the lake exposure. They will have to be test the level in their blood.

Aman Chopra: These are the cables that are hanging out for electricity?

Hsin-Yi: Yeah. 

Aman Chopra: Wow.

Jordan: It's like electric cables. But the ones we focused on in the project were telephone company cables, like very old telephone companies. And so they're the ones that you see like hanging on the street, but there's also ones that go like underground and underwater as well that can leak into the soil. So there's a whole bunch of ways to be exposed.

Aman Chopra: Oh my god. Wow. I mean every little thing has an impact on the environment.

Hsin-Yi: Yeah, exactly.

Aman Chopra: Take me to, you know, you two have given very unique answers to what environmental public health means to you, what most people might not recognize. What are some roles that you've seen people in this industry take on after they finish a degree and those are people that are involved? It seems like every single thing around me right now is environmental public health. So what are the most common areas that people are going after doing this degree?

Jordan: I mean there's so many jobs especially cause our environment is like constantly changing and people are getting more active and like trying to protect it. So I mean you can go into government work, you can go into nonprofit work, you can go into like corporate America and do like a sustainable construction initiative, so there's really a ton that you can do with it. I mean, what I'm looking at personally is dealing like with water quality monitoring and safety and dealing with just the impacts and of like waterborne pathogens and how to prevent them from making humans sick basically.

Aman Chopra: I'm curious to add Jordan, what made you choose that area of water-based thinking in terms of...How did that interest come about for you?

Jordan: Yeah, so as someone who grew up in Florida right by the coast, I've always been exposed to water and so much of my childhood was surrounded by water and I don't know, it's just been such a key part of like, just like my upbringing and I've always been like very close to it. And I later found out when like the flint water crisis happened, it really like sparked my interest. And then just the fact that here in the United States where we have like, everyone thinks we have like such developed like water quality standards and like the health standards and like the fact that something like that can literally happen in our backyard and go unnoticed for years really was just like, “okay, this is not just... This is an issue everywhere.” Like this is an issue like in my hometown of Florida but also like abroad. And so it kind of just like really sparked my interest and I went deeper down a rabbit hole and looked into like different like health communication aspects and was really interested in like how water is like so crucial yet so many people don't have access to it. 

Aman Chopra: Let's take it a step ahead, right? So when I first started this podcast, I was meeting a lot of people and I realized I was expecting that people in the world of global public health are more in the field type of thing. And I'd been interacting with a lot of folks that were rather behind the computer, data. And what y'all are mentioning sounds very similar to hands-on experience. Where does the data come in? So is your world more hands-on or is it a mixture of the two? What can someone expect when doing a degree like this?

Hsin-Yi: I would say environmental science definitely focus on more outdoor practice, so we need like, we need to take sample in the field in different areas and use the equipment to test. For example during this summer we follow leaf exposure project. We went to a lot of different place like including Wappingers Falls, West Orange, they're both in New Jersey and we also fly from New York to Louisiana to take soil sample where we're exposed to lead because of old cables. So I will definitely say this degree is more outdoor hands on compared to just sitting in front of computer.

Aman Chopra: Yeah. So a lot of you folks that might be interested in applying to a degree within public health that are looking into hands-on work, this is the one, this is one of the few degrees out there as well that has a lot of hands-on experience because surprisingly data has a bigger impact, right? You all have some classes that are heavy on data as well. So it shows that the numbers are important and this is one of those things where I'm hearing more experience of hands-on offsite projects, travel projects. And speaking of those offsite and travel projects, can you tell me about some of your experiences? You mentioned Louisiana, you mentioned going to New Jersey as well. What were some of these projects like for you? How did you choose this direction? Was it there? How did you become a part of these projects?

Jordan: Yeah, so yeah, we went to Wappingers Falls just outside of the Metropolitan City area and then we went to a couple of different sites in Louisiana. And so that was in collaboration with the Wall Street Journal for the lead contamination project with the telephone cables. And we both got invited on this project by Dr. Caravanos. He reached out to us and we kind of didn't really know much about it before we signed on. We didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into, but it sounded very interesting. So we decided to help out and definitely got some really great hands-on practice and met some really interesting people and got to collect data and really just like put our degree to work, which is really cool. 

Hsin-Yi: I’m sure we will keep going to do this soil focus on this soil project, but yeah. But I'm not sure where is our next job. I'm not sure, but just looking forward to it because environmental science is...Environmental problem is everywhere, so.

Aman Chopra: I mean y'all have mentioned that to begin with and I'm getting fascinated by how everything around is the environment. So we had a professor, Professor Prince Michael on one of our episodes that will be released soon and that was also describing geography and how environment impacts everything. And I'm thinking of that right now as well while talking to you two. I sense that there's a lot of… You two have been so hands on outside of GPH and within GPH and I've noticed that there's after a while looking you folks up that there is a mentor. You have access to mentors and you found your mentors and had some guidance around that. A lot of people should take advantage of these resources at GPH in terms of finding a mentor, whether they're while they're at school or even outside of school. What was your process like in terms of locating a mentor for your personal trajectory? Do you have any mentors at GPH? Either one of you? 

Hsin-Yi I mean, yeah, we do have-

Jordan: I think Dr. Carvanos is definitely a mentor for the both of us.

Hsin-Yi: Yeah.

Jordan: He’s really like helped a lot just giving us opportunities like inside and outside of the classroom. His classes are very hands-on and project based, which is incredible. And then we had the opportunity to do this project with him as well. So he's definitely been a huge mentor for me personally.

Hsin-Yi: Yeah. Yeah, so in GPH every student will have advisors. So we are, Jordan and I are, we are very lucky because we do have Caravanos as our advisor. He always provide a lot of like information about internship or job opportunity and also he having us to do this soil sample project. So I would like to say I highly encourage every student just talk with your mentor, your advisor, your professor, and just keep in touch with Lynn, and I think every professor will really willing to help students with their problems or the internship or job or works. Yeah, just so email or during office hours talk with him.

Aman Chopra: So find the professor you'd like to interact with someone in your field and set up a meeting with them, ask them when their availabilities, their office hours of day, if it interests you and who knows, maybe you'll collaborate with them on a project then be taken to Louisiana like the two of you have.

Jordan: Yeah, exactly. 

Aman Chopra: I wanna know a little bit more about how GPH has expanded your mind when it comes to environmental public health. So what was the day one version of Hsin-Yi and Jordan at GPH and now how is the opinion around environmental public health expanded? So this is what you thought environmental public health was and now you came here and what does it feel like to you?

Hsin-Yi: I would say GPH expands my master role practical experience. So I very much enjoy my concentrations called course like global environmental health and environmental health assessment, which both teach by Professor Caravanos, because in these two classes we not only learn the lectures but also have very a lot of critical experience with instrument like X-ray full res we mentioned before and also knowing how to culture moss in our apartment is really cool and I think that in GPH our environmental science concentration really can help you to apply how you learn in the class and you will enhance your learning.

Aman Chopra: All right. What was it like for you, Jordan? So what did you sense? What was your thought around environmental public health when you started?

Jordan: Yeah, I mean I think just like from the get go, especially at like global public health, the whole school at NYU, it really just like showed me how interdisciplinary the concentration is because like not only did we have to take like environmental health classes, but we also had to take like policy classes and epidemiology classes and like social and behavioral like health classes and like through all of those classes, it really showed me how you can always look at it through like the lens of your concentration. So even when I was taking an epidemiology class, I was looking at it through the lens of environmental public health, which is really interesting. So you could always like tailor the classes that maybe quote unquote you didn't think would fit right into environmental public health, but they actually do. And so it kind of just shows you how broad of a field it is and how interconnected the world of public health is and just how valuable looking at those different perspectives can be, especially when you're researching.

Aman Chopra: Oh, lovely. Take me back to a moment where you joined first and you were looking at different classes with the lens of environmental public health. How have your interests been redirected since you started and found a new direction? Have either of your interests evolved?

Jordan: I mean, I think I've gotten more and more interested in water health and sustainability and quality. Like I already came into this program knowing that's kind of where my focus was. And I think this program really just like allowed me to grow my knowledge and expand upon that. Like I was able to take a class at like the Tandon School of Engineering on waterborne pathogens. 

Aman Chopra: Wow.

Jordan: It can really like curate your time to figure out like what specific niche concentration you want to do. So if you're worried about like air pollution or like lead or asbestos or water, you can like really hone in on that specific topic, which is really nice. 

Aman Chopra: I'd like to piggyback off something you mentioned there. There is something really cool about NYU. You mentioned you took a class at the engineering school for water-based pathogens, correct? 

Jordan: Yeah, I did. 

Aman Chopra: And that's so fascinating to me that people can come to a school like NYU and take classes at different schools as long as it fits within their lens. The fact that you're in the public health school, but you went all the way to engineering to try to figure out something with water-based pathogens. How did you figure that out? How did you find that – hey, I wanna find a class like this? What was that process for you? Because I'm sure a lot of students want to explore the interdisciplinary aspect of NYU where they can go take something at the arts school that impacts their degree. How was that for you?

Jordan: I mean I definitely recommend it. Like I not only did it with Tandon, but I also took two classes my last semester with Steinhardt, which is like through their school of environmental education. So I kind of just looked, literally looked at the, it's called Albert what we use to sign up for classes and I put in like keywords like environment, water, health, and I would just basically go down the class list until I saw a class name that looked like something that might spark my interest, would then research it further. And then I would ask Dr. Caravanos and then the department chair to see if I could get clearance to go. And all three times I did it, I always got clearance to go. So as long as you have the information to back up why you want to take this class and why you think it's gonna be beneficial to your degree as a whole, they'll definitely let you. And I've had a wonderful time in all three of those classes and learned a lot.

Aman Chopra: The key word seeing is definitely a masterclass and thanks for sharing that. That's gonna be a great tip and an insight that most students don't know about.

Jordan: Yeah, no, definitely take advantage of it.

Aman Chopra: Yeah, I'm glad you took those classes. That's actually awesome. Hsin-Yi how has your interest grown then? Tell me We wanna hear about it.

Hsin-Yi: Yeah, so since I have been involved in the lead exposure project with Professor Caravanos, I have come to understand that lead is environmental issue that is been very seriously recently. So both EPA and POS are working to address lead contaminating problems. So as a result I feel my interest in it has grown in lead exposure. I would like to research more about it, yeah.

Aman Chopra: Well we've learned about where all of both your interests lie and what's happening next and what environmental public health means for you. And I'm sure that you two have unlocked a new mindset for environmental public health students that are coming into GPH or exploring this. I've certainly learned a lot and can think of what in the environment interests me if I want to focus on something in my own world. So I really appreciate you folks giving us the time, guidance, mentorship for how to get a mentor as well. And we wish you the very, very best on both of your journeys because amazing things are coming your way. And Jordan and Hsin-Yi, thank you for being on the I AM GPH podcast.