This Pan-American Advanced Studies Institutes (PASI) award, jointly supported by the NSF and the Department of Energy (DOE), will take place in Mar del Plata, Argentina in July 2012. Organized by Michael Mozur of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) in Pensacola, Florida, the institute will define and address the scope of air quality issues near mega-cities and chemical exchange between them and adjacent agro-ecosystems. Specifically, scientists and trainees from North and South America will evaluate the joint effects of mega-cities? ?metabolisms? and agriculture practices on air quality, with particular attention to be given to potential interactions among the two pollution sources.
This PASI addresses a global concern that presents significant public policy dilemmas for local leaders and environmental managers in affected areas. The international scope of the participants and the plan to encourage collaborative research to address the above issues will represent significant multidisciplinary contributions to tackling this important challenge, even beyond the Americas region. This PASI will integrate research communities that in the past had emphasized agricultural or urban air quality separately, thereby fostering the development of successful hypothesis-driven research.
Pan-American Advanced Studies Institute Air Quality at the Interface: Megacities and Agro-ecosystems La Plata, Argentina August 8-16, 2012 Organized by the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC), this course brought together 30 graduate students and post-doctoral scientists from the Americas for a 9-day instructive course in La Plata, Argentina. The course addressed air quality issues in and near mega-cities and chemical exchange with adjacent extensive agricultural eco-systems. Mega-cities as defined by the United Nations have in excess of 10 million inhabitants and are 25 in number worldwide. Such mega-cities are an increasingly prevalent part of the global landscape as people migrate from rural areas to improve their economic prospects. Not only are agricultural areas adjacent to urban centers being converted into other land uses, but also those that remain are subjected to a wide variety of pollutants transported to and deposited on land used for food production, animal husbandry, and other productive purposes increasing the pathways for exposure to materials having adverse effects on humans and ecosystems. Conversely, use and transport of agrochemicals, fertilizers and other farm-related materials to the urban areas represents a different and incremental burden of pollution on megacity dwellers. Important to training students for addressing the research needs for the future is the potential reactivity and formation of new hazards due to the mixing of the respective pollution sources. Prior to taking the course the students were knowledgeable conducting work in one or the other of these two types of environments. A major learning objective and course outcome was to educate the students and provoke creative thinking on the chemistry occurring in the adjacent region and the potential products of mixing contaminants from both regions. These students now will be able to conceive, prepare, and evaluate research programs addressing these critical problems as they undertake their professional careers in academia, government and business. 1. Project outcomes addressing the intellectual merit and broader impacts of the work Students were introduced to the current state of air pollution in megacities through a series of interactive instruction sessions; measurement of urban and agricultural pollutants; atmospheric fate and transport; and local/regional modeling. Participants worked in small groups to discuss specific emerging research areas and to develop research proposals addressing the megacities pollution challenge. They were exposed to the team research process used to develop scientific proposals. Students benefited through their interaction with the instructors in both formal classroom settings and informally in career mentoring discussions. Interactions with each other broadened their scientific background and international perspective on planning and carrying out research in areas outside their own geography. As megacity/agricultural zone intersections become more prevalent, it will be critical to have researchers trained to think about the nature of these contributed contaminants, their interactions and the potential health and welfare effects. They need to be able to design and carry out research programs, to develop products and services to mitigate and control the adverse outcomes, and to develop and implement policies that minimize or prevent undesirable effects while simultaneously recognizing that as populations increase so does the frequency and intensity of potential crisis. This course provided the ability for these problems to be addressed in the future in a creative and scientifically sound manner. Responses to a post-course questionnaire indicated that the students were very positive about the instructional content, which they judged to be challenging but fun. In addition to the learning experience, two outcomes of the course are important to the broader impacts. One, a weblog or blog was created and maintained to allow a running contributory commentary on the course. This blog was published as a public record and amazingly as the daily activities were recorded comments from the outside world were received supporting the importance of addressing research needed to understand and manage these complex issues. Another outcome was the establishment of a website provided by SETAC for the group of students and instructors to interact on an as needed basis. 2. Other outcomes resulting from the award A large amount of educational materials spanning a range of products (lecture slides, background reading, measurement and analytical methods procedures) has been compiled and will be maintained for the students in an online course library and as a building block for organizing and delivering the course in other regions. The megacity/agricultural interface issue is not limited to the Americas, so the potential for conducting this type of effort in Asia, Africa or even Europe is great. 3. Additional information Plans are already underway to organize sessions at two professional society meetings to present and discuss course topics and the concept of these types of activities to train future researchers. At minimum there will be activities (oral presentations, discussions, posters, etc.) at the American Chemical Society Fall 2013 meeting and at the SETAC 2013 Annual Meeting.