SSEHRI Research Projects

The SSEHRI Research Group is an interdisciplinary research group modeled after the tremendously successful Contested Illness Research Group of Brown University. The SSEHRI Research Group meets weekly to discuss and support the ongoing work of group members, coordinate projects and grants, and brainstorm future projects. Below are some of the projects in which SSEHRI members and collaborating groups are currently engaged. Click each title for more information.

Current Projects:

Biomonitoring Research Ethics
  • National Institutes of Health R01 ES017514-04: “Ethical and Legal Challenges in Communicating Biomonitoring and Personal Exposure Results to Participants” ($1,826,012) 2009-2016 (Phil Brown, Co-PI)
  • A collaboration between SSEHRI, Silent Spring Institute, and UC Berkeley this study is designed to develop ethical guidelines for biomonitoring studies which report back body-burden results to participants. This study builds off the work of four biomonitoring studies, interviewing participants, researchers, and IRB members on their views and expiriences with biomonitoring report back. This study is funded by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. The primary investigators are Phil Brown of SSEHRI, Julia Brody of Silent Spring Institute, and Rachel Morello-Frosch of the University of California, Berkeley. For more information contact Matt Judge

ViCTER Consortium

  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences R01 ES014514-02S1: “Virtual Consortium for Translational/Transdisciplinary Environmental Research: ‘Ethical and Legal Challenges in Communicating Individual Biomonitoring and Personal Exposure Results to Study Participants: Guidance for Researchers and Institutional Review Boards.’” ($1,205,048) 2012-2016. (Phil Brown, Co-PI)
  • The ViCTER Consortium is a transdisciplinary effort in which each project is fully integrated and will contribute to and benefit from the others. This collaboration provides exceptional access to state-of-the-art user-centered technology for environmental health and promotes translation of exposure science to public health communications. The goal of the consortium is to build off the Biomonitoring Ethics Project to integrate knowledge from environmental health science, social science, and computer science to develop empirically-based digital report-back methods that strengthen the impact of the parent grant by providing resources to report individual exposure results for emerging contaminants.
  • The parent grant, led by J. Brody at Silent Spring Institute in collaboration with P. Brown at Northeastern University and R. Morello-Frosch at the University of California, Berkeley, contributes experience in Endorcrine Disrupting Chemical report-back, social science, and environmental public health. K. Gajos, who leads the Intelligent Interactive Systems Group in the Harvard Computer Science Department, will provide expertise in human-computer interaction to lead development of the digital interface. Exposure scientist G. Adamkiewicz at Harvard School of Public Health, the Boston lead for the CDC Green Housing Study, will field test the digital report-back model for a public housing population where effective communication can reduce chemical exposure burden. To strengthen results communications, Adamkiewicz and HSPH colleague J. Spengler add exceptional expertise in community-engaged research and interventions to improve indoor air quality in public housing. For more information contact Matt Judge

Data Privacy

  • National Institute of Health: “Data Sharing and Privacy Protection in Digital-Age Environmental Health Studies” ($1,987,867). 2012-2017 (Phil Brown, Co-PI)
  • Increased data-sharing can accelerate science and stretch research dollars, but fears of re-identification of study participants from readily available datasets raise concerns about protecting privacy, a central ethical responsibility in human subjects research. This project will investigate privacy risks and solutions for sharing data from environmental health studies, a field where these issues have not yet been widely discussed. This project will empirically design and validate strategies for protecting privacy while facilitating wider sharing of EH data. The results will include a computational model that researchers, agencies, and IRBs can use to anticipate which variables pose privacy risks. We will apply the model to 10 prominent existing EH studies to provide the first assessment of the extent of privacy risks in this field. We will formulate empirically based guidance on how to redact or modify data to protect privacy while optimizing usefulness. This privacy utility assessment is important in order to identify variables that may be unexpectedly problematic and avoid redacting valuable data in ways that don’t benefit privacy. We expect that many chemical exposure measurements themselves will have low privacy risk, although ancillary data used to interpret exposures and link them to health will create re-ID possibilities. This creates an imperative to improve and secure report back processes in ways that can also protect access to useful data for researchers and communities.
  • This project builds off of the Ethics Project and the ViCTOR Consortium, forming a three part program to improve biomonitoring report back studies in the future. The primary investigators are Julia Brody of Silent Spring Institute and Phil Brown of SSEHRI. For more information contact Matt Judge

Northeast Ethics Education Partnership

  • National Science Foundation 00000632/SES-1338751: “Northeast Ethics Education Partnership” ($70,351) 2013-2016 (Phil Brown, PI)
  • Provides ethics training for Central New York (SUNY-ESF) and Southeastern New England (Brown and Northeastern), including student mentoring, faculty mentoring, summer workshop 2 sessions, train-the-trainer modules at national society meetings and on-line training and study resources.

Barriers in Translating Genomic Research

  • National Human Genome Research Institute: “Barriers in Translating Genomic Research into State Health Programs” ($163,981) 2012 – 2017 (Laura Senier, PI)
  • Identifies common elements that enhance capacity in public health genomics across states, and will clarify which elements may be unique or would work only in a particular state. This research will identify guidelines that will help states modernize public health genetics programs in ways that are ethical, equitable, and cost-effective.

NSF Training Grant

  • National Science Foundation SES 1148682: “New Directions in Environmental Ethics: Emerging Contaminants, Emerging Technologies, and Beyond” ($557,588) 2012-2016 (Phil Brown, PI)
  • Trains doctoral and postdoctoral students in Sociology, Environmental Health, and Science, Technology, and Society, in emerging contaminants and technologies, public participation in science, and reflexive research ethics.


  • National Institute of Environmental Health (Superfund Research Program) 5 P42 ES017198-04: “Puerto Rican Testsite to Explore Contamination Threats (PROTECT)/Superfund Research Program”  (approx. $13.5 million) 2013-2018 (Phil Brown, Co-Director, Community Engagement Core and Co-Director, Research Translation Core)
  • Investigates preterm births in communities surrounding toxic waste and Superfund sites in Puerto Rico. Phil Brown is part of the Community Engagement Core and Research Translation Core of this multi-project, multi-institution collaboration.


  • National Science Foundation: “Poly- and Perfluorinated Chemicals: The Social Discovery of a Class of Emerging Contaminants” ($343,163) 2015-2017 (Phil Brown, PI)
  • These have been called by various names, including “Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs)”, and currently “Poly- and perfluoroalkyl acids (PFASs).”
  • This NSF-funded project investigates the discovery and re-discovery of per- and polyfluorinated chemicals, a class of carbon-fluorine-based chemicals widely used in industrial production and found in numerous consumer products.  This project seeks to understand the confluence of actors and conditions necessary for the periodic discoveries of the health and environmental impacts of these chemicals.  Additionally, this project will focus on how contamination episodes in three locations have impacted the awareness, regulation and research related to this class of chemicals.
  • The Learning From C8 Exposure Study is Ph.D. research being conducted by Matthew Judge under the supervision of SSEHRI Director Phil Brown.  This study is designed to develop understanding about the C8 exposure experience through interviews with residents of the exposed communities.  The insights from this research we believe will be useful to future communities faced with exposure to similar emerging contaminants – chemicals for which there exist insufficient health and exposure information.

T32 Training Grant

  • National Institute of Environmental Health 1 T32 ES023769-01A1: “Transdisciplinary Training at the Intersection of Environmental Health and Social Science” ($865,034) 2015-2020 (Phil Brown, Co-PI)
  • This five-year training grant will provide support for six new doctoral students as well as three post-docs for two years each. Trainees will divide their time between SSEHRI and Silent Spring Institute, with time spent working with additional Northeastern faculty and community organizations as well.


  • Research Opportunites for Undergraduates: Training in Environmental Health Science (ROUTES)
  • The ROUTES program is developed to increase the number of undergraduate underrepresented minority (URM) students participating in the environmental health (EH) research, training them in interdisciplinary settings and continuing onto graduate studies and lifelong EH research careers. ROUTES engages and prepares URM students for EH research careers through hands-on research experience, research community engagement, training, mentoring, and support. This program is bringing together the combined educational and experiential resources of Northeastern University faculty (with associated research centers and institutes), who provide their teaching, mentoring, and research expertise in environmental health sciences, including that in environmental engineering, environmental epidemiology, exposure sciences, and environmental chemistry and biology.

Fracking Research Program

Numerous graduate and undergraduate research projects around fracking continue under the direction of Sara Wylie. Graduate student Jacob Matz is continuing his research collaboration with South West Pennsylvania Environmental Health Research Project examining the use of citizen science air quality monitoring in Pennsylvania. Matz presented his work at the Society for Applied Anthropology in the Spring of 2015 as part of a panel on Citizen Science and Fracking organized by Wylie. The panel’s papers will be shared as a special issue of the new STS online, open access journal Engaging Science Technology and Society. Elizabeth Wilder, graduate student, is researching natural gas pipeline development in collaboration with Toxics Action Center. Lourdes Vera, incoming sociology graduate student is working with Wylie to develop citizen science tools to map hydrogen sulfide and Lauren Richter, graduate student, is examining citizen reporting websites around fracking in California.

JPB Environmental Health Fellowship Program

“An innovative approach to support junior faculty at U.S. Institutions engaged in research on social and physical determinants of environmental health relevant to underserved communities.”

In 2014 Sara Wylie received a prestigious Environmental Health Fellowship through Harvard’s School of Public Health, supported by the JPB Foundation. This three-and-a-half year fellowship will support Wylie’s research at a crucial time for a junior faculty person and build SSEHRI’s network nationally with the 11 other JPB Fellows.

“The JPB Environmental Health Fellowship Program has been developed to promote multidisciplinary research on how the social and physical environment interact to influence health and to look particularly at these determinants of health on underserved communities. Recognizing the urgency of these issues and the need to train a new generation of scholars to conduct research and develop solutions, the JPB Environmental Health Fellowship Program will:

  • Advance junior faculty academic careers within their home institutions by providing a multidisciplinary training experience that will emphasize scholarship and leadership
  • Promote multidisciplinary collaborative research on the intersection of social and environmental health problems that affect underserved communities
  • Create a cadre of research leaders committed to finding solutions to complex environmental health problems”

With the support of the fellowship Wylie is developing low cost tools for communities to map hydrogen sulfide, a hazardous air pollutant associated with oil and gas development. Over 2015 and 2016 Wylie will work across three communities to collaboratively develop and test the tool. Supported by the fellowship she is also developing and testing with performance artists ways to visualize pollution in real time, continuing work mapping pollution from Tar Sand refining in Southeast Chicago and developing websites to share data developed by citizen scientists.

Preparing Crowdsource Disaster Response to Fracking Emergencies

With the support of the New World Foundation Sara Wylie and have been collaboratively developing a tool for crowd sourcing image analysis following disasters. Online open source tools are transforming disaster response by enabling the public to augment federal agencies in providing and directing assistance. Using a Public Lab tool during Hurricane Sandy, Open Street Maps Humanitarian Team (HOT OSM) collaborated with FEMA to organize 6000 online volunteers to sort images of the damage. The project helped to rapidly identify damaged areas and target FEMA’s relief effort. In collaboration with Computer Science faculty member Seth Cooper, Wylie and Public Lab are developing this infrastructure into a stable crowdsourcing tool to help with disaster response related to fracking. Undergraduate Rebecca Govoni received a Northeastern Provost Research Award to work on the project. Pilot tests for the new site are being conducted this summer and fall.

Supplement to the Sustainability Research Network, Urban Water Innovation Network (U-WIN): Transitioning Toward Sustainable Urban Water Systems

National Science Foundation, “Supplement to the Sustainability Research Network, Urban Water Innovation Network (U-WIN): Transitioning Toward Sustainable Urban Water Systems.” Award No. 1444758, 2015-2020. (Sharon Harlan, PI of sub-award to Northeastern)

The Urban Water Innovation Network (U-WIN) is a collaborative partnership among 16 institutions that is investigating pressures on water systems in six regional U.S. hubs, engaging stakeholders in assessing the broad impacts and tradeoffs associated with sustainable solutions for future water, and developing indicators to measure change and improvements in water management. Sharon Harlan co-directs the U-WIN Social Equity and Environmental Justice (SEEJ) team with Elizabeth Mack at Michigan State University.  They are working on several projects, including the design for a household survey and building a database of urban water environmental justice cases, in order to ensure that SEEJ concerns are a high profile in all aspects of U-WIN.  Participation in stakeholder meetings is being sought from marginalized populations that typically do not have voices in the municipal water decision-making process. Sociology Ph.D. student Stephanie Clark-Reyna is collaborating on a review article about water injustices in the U.S.

Hazards SEES

National Science Foundation, “Hazards SEES: Enhancing Emergency Preparedness for Critical Infrastructure Failure During Extreme Heat Events.” Award No. 1520803, 2015-2019. (Sharon Harlan, Senior Investigator).

This project is assessing the human, environmental, and technological impacts of concurrent heat wave and electrical grid failure (blackout) events in Atlanta, GA, Detroit, MI, and Phoenix, AZ. Extreme heat is among the leading causes of weather-related mortality in the U.S., and it is the environmental hazard most confidently projected to worsen with climate change. With an increasing reliance on mechanical cooling for heat management comes a growing potential for significant adverse impacts if electrical power is not available, particularly in cities where urban heat islands and other factors heighten climate change vulnerability.  Sharon Harlan is working with research teams at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, and Arizona State University to study human exposure to ambient temperatures in different types of residential buildings and to evaluate the potential for reductions in heat-related morbidity and mortality through environmental, technological, and behavioral adaptations during extreme events.


  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Contested Illnesses — Disputes Over Environmentally-Induced Disease, 1999-2002 ($249,973) (PI)
  • National Science Foundation: Citizen-Science Alliances in Contested Environmental Diseases, 2000-2003 ($126,091)  (PI)
  • National Science Foundation: Blue and Green Shades of Health: The Social Construction of Health Risks in the Labor and Environmental Movements, 2004-2007 ($180,000)  (PI)
  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: “Linking Breast Cancer Advocacy and Environment Justice” ($959,800) 2004-2008 (Co-PI)
  • National Science Foundation: “The ‘Research Right-to-Know’: Ethics and Values in Communicating Research Data to Individuals and Communities” ($300,000) 2005-2008  (Co-PI)
  • National Science Foundation: “Micropatterned Nanotopography Chips for Probing the Cellular Basis of Biocompatibility and Toxicity” ($1,200,000) 2005-2009 (Co-PI/Director of Social and Ethical Implications Core)
  • National Science Foundation: “Katrina and the Built Environment: Spatial and Social Impacts” ($99,800) 2005-2006 (Co-PI)
  • National Science Foundation: “Disaster, Resilience, and the Built Environment on the Gulf Coast” ($749,420) 2007-2010 (Co-PI)
  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Superfund Basic Research Program): Supplement to Community Outreach Core of “Reuse in RI: A State-Based Approach to Complex Exposures” ($36,000) 2008-2009 (Co-PI)
  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Partnerships in Environmental Public Health supplement to “Linking Breast Cancer Advocacy and Environment Justice”( $139,805) 2008-2009 (Co-PI)
  • Environmental Protection Agency, CARE grant awarded to the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island. ($100,000) 2008-2010 (Co-PI)
  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: “Formative Center for the Evaluation of Environmental Impacts on Fetal Development – Children’s Environmental Health Center ($2,289,097) 2009-2012 (Co-PI and Director of Community Outreach and Translation Core)
  • National Science Foundation: “Northeast Ethics Education Partnership for Research Ethics/Cultural Competence Training” ($397,984). 2010-2013 (Co-PI)
  • National Science Foundation: “Flame Retardant Chemicals: Their Social Discovery as a Case Study for Emerging Contaminants” ($432,676) 2009-2012 (PI)
  • New World Foundation: “Preparing Crowdsource Disaster Response to Fracking Emergencies” ($25,600) 2014 (PI)
  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Superfund Research Program): “Reuse in RI: A State-Based Approach to Complex Exposures” ($11,520,320) 2005-2009; renewed $15,392,906, 2009-2014 (Co-PI/Community Outreach Core Director)
  • National Institute of Environmental Health: “Social Science-Environmental Health Interdisciplinary Collaborations-Conference Grant” ($20,000) 2014-2015 (PI)