In November, NIEHS health scientist administrator Sri Nadadur, Ph.D., completed his 90-day assignment in New Delhi as a U.S. Embassy Science Fellow. Nadadur is the first NIEHS scientist selected to participate in the program, which, to date, has hosted some 300 U.S. government scientists and engineers at American embassies.
In India and the U.S., colleagues praised Nadadur’s progress toward establishing a network of collaborations among academic and government scientists to increase awareness of the health effects of air pollution in India (see text box). India’s capital city, New Delhi, holds the dubious distinction of ranking number one on a 2015 World Health Organization (WHO) list of cities with the worst average annual outdoor air pollution.
A successful fellowship
During his tenure with the embassy, Nadadur received high-profile attention and honors, including the following.
- An honorary professorship from Amity University.
- Extended briefing with U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, during Power’s visit to the India Meteorological Department in New Delhi.
- Interviews with Indian officials and lead scientists.
- Talks at professional meetings, such as the Golden Jubilee lecture series at the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, where Nadadur worked when he lived in India.
- Major press coverage, sparked by his address at a special public event on air quality, “Your Breath is Your Health,” held in his honor Nov. 18 at the American Center in New Delhi. Sri also moderated a panel discussion among representatives from WHO, the Embassy of Mexico in India, and Clean Air Asia.
On his departure, the embassy staff presented him with the symbolic Cricket Bat Award, “For creating a network of India’s top air quality and health researchers…and linking them with NIEHS and foremost American researchers to form a U.S.-India air quality and health research network.”
Energizing research where the need is greatest
“There’s a real potential to do something within our [collective] means,” Nadadur said of his work prior to and including his fellowship in New Delhi. “There are many things I learned there [in New Delhi], and there are many things we can do there.”
The months ahead will be busy for Nadadur and collaborators. In January, the first meeting of what he described as Communities of Researchers will be held, aimed at developing a blueprint to address air pollution and health research issues in India, followed by a joint meeting in the fall, and a publication later in the year.
The network of researchers, Nadadur explained, will build on the findings from more than two decades of work by U.S. scientists on the health effects of air pollution. Interest in the network was sparked by concerns about the health of U.S. government employees in India. Besides the obvious respiratory impacts, such effects also include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and neurological diseases.
Publicly available air quality data
The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India do continuous monitoring of fine particulate matter, to better inform U.S. citizens and embassy staff of the current conditions. This real-time data, which is part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Air Quality Index, is available on the U.S. Embassy website, and is used by national and local newspapers. For the New Delhi metropolitan area, the Government of the Republic of India and National Capital Territory of Delhi government also provide publicly available air quality information.
The Air Quality Index readings at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi typically fall in or above the range labeled unhealthy, according to EPA standard, between October and February. Daytime levels, primarily from routine vehicular traffic, are compounded at night by the 2,000 to 3,000 trucks that pass through the city, which has no major highways to divert traffic.
(Eddy Ball, Ph.D., is a contract writer with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)