Science abstract design

2022 Pilot Project Awards

Our Pilot Projects Program is one of the main ways we fund environmental health research. 

 Effect of Prenatal Wildfire Exposure on Childhood Allergic Sensitization and Asthma Development

Dr. Anh Nguyen (Resized)
  • Principal Investigator: Anh Nguyen (, Department of Pediatrics
  • Principal Investigator: Rebecca Schmidt (, Department of Public Health Sciences ​​​​
  • Community Engagement Advisor:  Public Health Institute

The problem: Wildfire smoke affects millions of people worldwide, resulting in increased health risks as fires become more frequent and destructive due to climate change. Pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable to its impact. A robust literature exists linking wildfire smoke's particulate matter (PM), particularly PM 2.5 and PM 10, to respiratory admissions and asthma exacerbations in children. Similarly, studies have suggested the causal link between long-term air pollution to the development of allergic diseases. However, few studies to date have specifically investigated the developmental impact of gestational wildfire smoke exposure on fetal immune and lung development. Furthermore, these studies have reported mixed findings in terms of susceptibility period. 

The project: This study aims to examine the impact of prenatal wildfire smoke exposure on childhood health, in particular its effect on asthma and allergies development. We will also investigate the underlying immunological mechanisms and evaluate whether the timing of wildfire pollutant exposure during pregnancy influences the diseases' development. This can help shape future preventive strategies to mitigate maternal exposure and ultimately protect children's health from future fires and other climate-related events.

Invasive Fungal Infections are a Suspected Unrecognized Threat of California Wildfires

Dr. Naomi Hauser (resized)
  • Principal Investigator: Naomi Hauser (, Department of Internal Medicine
  • Community partner: UC Davis Fire Department

The problem: Smoke is known to have both living and non-living components which can be carried long distances in the air. Some of these non-living elements include fungal particles which have the potential to be concerning to human health. While some worsening health risks and outcomes are routinely attributed to climate change and wildfires, such as increasing numbers of burns, heat stroke, smoke inhalation and negative mental health outcomes, data regarding the relationship between wildfires and respiratory infections are mixed and research into other types of infections is minimal.

The project: For this project, we will begin to investigate the relationship between wildfires and human health from the perspective of human infections. We will look at fungal infections in burn patients admitted to our Burn ICU at UC Davis Hospital and compare these infections to fungi isolated in the air inside the hospital and at wildfire sites. We will enlist the help of the UC Davis Fire Department for sample collection at wildfire sites. We will also compare fungal infections in these patients during wildfire and non-wildfire seasons in California. We expect to find an increase in fungal infections during CA wildfires as well as an increase in fungal particles in the air closer to wildfires. We also expect that wildfire burns will be associated with a greater number of fungal infections than other types of burns.

 Understanding the Persistence of Poor Air Quality and Environmental Injustice in Imperial Valley, California

Ian Faloona

The problem: Even in the absence of a large urban center, the Imperial County routinely violates air pollution standards established by the Clean Air Act for both particulate matter (PM) and ozone (O03). Despite ozone reductions of about 30% in the last decade in major urban areas of California, ozone in the Imperial Valley has not improved. Warm year-round temperatures make the area one of the most productive farming regions in California, with an estimated output of over one billion dollars annually. Consequently, it is home to some of the largest emissions of the air pollutant nitric oxide, a major precursor of PM and O3, which is produced by microbes in soil under the application of fertilizer. 

The project: We are undertaking a year-long study of the nitrogen isotopic fingerprints of PM to determine the percentage of nitrogen in the air that is derived from fossil fuel combustion versus agricultural fertilizer use. Microbes in the soil will preferentially consume the lighter isotope of nitrogen thereby leaving a fingerprint of their contribution to the oxidized nitrogen, which increases the produced ozone and particulate matter in the atmosphere. We further propose to continue working with community groups such as Comité Cívico del Valle (CCV) and the local pollution control board to analyze their community network PM data and help them identify neighborhoods that appear to be most severely impacted by poor air quality.

Utilizing Silicone Wristbands to Detect Environmental Contaminants Within the Yurok Tribal Community

Dr. Beth Rose Middleton (Resized)

The problem: Recent increases in adverse health conditions among Yurok Tribal members living on the Yurok reservation in northwestern California, including diverse types of cancers, have intensified concern among tribal members that contaminants from nearby forestry and agriculture activities may be a causative factor. While all people living or working on the Yurok Reservation may be acutely exposed to hazardous substances, Yurok Tribal members face additional exposures and adverse impacts through Tribal lifeways that include cultural and ceremonial activities as well as subsistence fishing, hunting and gathering.

The project: The goal of this study is to use silicone wristbands to develop data on personal chemical exposures of tribal members, in order to identify potential differences in the level and type of contaminant exposures by gender, location of residence, season, and life activities. Exposure levels will also be compared with exposures within other groups for which similar data is available. The study, originally requested by the Tribe, is expected to provide detailed information regarding individual contaminant exposures that may be beneficial in addressing Yurok Tribal members' concerns regarding everyday exposure on tribal lands. Tribal members who participate will receive an individual report of the contaminants found on their wristbands. After removing all identifiable information from the data, the project team will create informational graphics and handouts to disseminate findings to the Tribe. Data on contaminant exposure from the wristbands may correlate with contaminant detections in soil and water, thus creating a more complete dataset on environmental contaminants and pathways of exposure affecting Yurok Tribal members.


If you'd like more information about a particular project, please contact Ruth Williams ( for details.