Center for Healthy Air Water and Soil

Center for Healthy Air Water and Soil

About the Center for Healthy Air Water and Soil

The Center for Healthy Air Water and Soil contributes to the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute’s research agenda to identify the environmental determinants of health.               

The human environment includes many layered and complex relationships that interact with our physiology to determine health outcomes that range from optimal health to acute and chronic disease.

The Center for Healthy Air Water and Soil has a unique focus on the natural environment and modifications to that natural environment which then become parts of the social environment. For example, the generation and transportation of energy or transportation is the creation of the built environment and it changes the natural, physical environment in ways that can both improve and diminish health.  

Building on the Envirome Institute’s scholarly legacy in establishing the field of environmental cardiology, the Center for Healthy Air Water and Soil’s work highlights the connections between individuals, communities and the fundamental, environmental determinants of health.

Areas of Focus- Air, Water, and Soil

Air – The Center for Healthy Air, Water, & Soil’s portfolio of work identifies and highlights air pollution and its associated chronic disease risks as essential components of health outcome models. 

Exposure to air pollution is one of the most critical public health problems of the modern era.  According to the World Health Organization, outdoor air pollution is responsible for more than 4 million deaths worldwide each year. Air pollution causes about 16% of all lung cancer deaths, 25% of COPD and lung-infection deaths, and 17% of heart-disease related deaths. (Source: WHO Global Health Observatory data).

The Center’s pioneering work in determining how exposure to outdoor air pollution increases the burden of asthma and COPD began with the AIR Louisville project. In 2015, AIR Louisville enrolled 1,147 Louisvillians and tracked where, when, and why they experienced asthma or COPD symptoms. 1.2 million data points collected by citizen scientists about their symptoms and medicine use were combined with 5.4 million environmental data points to show what air quality conditions exacerbate asthma and COPD symptoms in Louisville. Read more about AirLouisville via the AIR Louisville website, Barrett, M., Combs V., Su, J., et al. AIR Louisville: Addressing Asthma With Technology, Crowdsourcing, Cross-Sector Collaboration, And Policy. Health Affairs, 37. 525-534 (2018, Project Hope)., and Casey, J.A., Su, J.G., Henneman, L.R.F. et al. Improved asthma outcomes observed in the vicinity of coal power plant retirement, retrofit and conversion to natural gas. Nat Energy 5, 398–408 (2020).

A heat map of Asthma risk in Louisville

Air Louisville created smart sensors to connect asthma medication to a smartphone app so people could better manage their condition through technology. Each time someone experienced an asthma attack, it created a data point so that the project team could develop an asthma risk map for Louisville.


More recently, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, the Center has released a citizen science smartphone app to crowd source odor reporting called Smell MyCity. Smell report data collected by citizen scientists has been used by Louisville Metro Government to pinpoint and address sources of pollution. 

Current air work for the Center includes the Green Heart Project, an ambitious longitudinal health study that investigates the relationship between air pollution, heart health, and residential greenness. Green Heart is the first study to examine how roadway air pollution moves throughout neighborhoods and how this exposure impacts the health and wellbeing of nearby residents. Through this intervention study, the Center will begin to uncover how to alleviate the disproportionate cardiovascular and metabolic disease burden that exists in cities.

A tree distribution map of Louisville

Louisville loses over 5,000 trees per year, yet greenness is associated with a host of health benefits. It is imperiative to know where in our city this critical infrastructure exists and where we need to increase the canopy.



A graphic on how plants capture particulate matter

Plants play an important role in air pollution mitigation. Harmful pollutants are blocked and captured by foliage, potentially decreasing exposure and harmful health consequences.


Far less is known about the interactions between indoor air quality, personal health, and greenness. This area of research has only recently become possible to explore through new technology and groundbreaking studies like Green Heart. Recent findings and new collaborations with universities across the United States have informed new research directions for the Center. For example, beginning in 2020, the Center launched an investigation of personal microbiomes within the Green Heart study area. This study will allow researchers to begin to discern how drastically different environments, such as work, home, and all the places in between, impacts the body’s biomechanics.

A paper on the human exposome

Jiang, C., Wang, X., Li, X., Inlora, J., Wang, T., Liu, Q., & Snyder, M. (2018). Dynamic Human Environmental Exposome Revealed by Longitudinal Personal Monitoring. Cell, 175(1), 277-291. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2018.08.060

4 men inspecting a local sewer

Water – The Center for Healthy Air, Water, & Soil’s portfolio of work examines how water systems contribute to the scientific understanding of human health and disease risk in urban environments.

Water is a primordial component of the natural environment and is essential for human health. Just like the blood system delivers live-giving oxygen to the lungs and disposes of waste through the kidneys, a city’s sewer system both delivers what is essential for life and provides important waste-removal services. It is essential to understand how a city’s natural and built infrastructure transfers pollutants and other contagions from their sources to locations of exposure. For instance, vapor intrusion is an issue around some Superfund and industrial waste sites. Vapor intrusion occurs when pollutants seep into groundwater and are released into nearby homes through sewer systems.

Through nontraditional partnerships with municipal and water treatment agencies, the Center has enabled the study of Louisville’s sewer system. For Green Heart and Co-Immunity, wastewater samples will augment environmental samples, biomarkers, and self-reported data to produce more accurate models of disease risk and open new venues of analysis.

Soil  -  The Center for Healthy Air, Water, & Soil’s portfolio of work highlights the role that soil plays in creating healthy environments.The Center has a growing interest in the role water and water systems play in the health and integrity of our natural environment.

Urban development, industrialization, war, mining, and agriculture have left a legacy of contaminated the soil across the globe. Soil pollution impacts food security by impairing plant metabolism which reduces crop yields, making produce unsafe for consumption, and harming beneficial organisms. Soil-borne industrial waste pose serious risks to human health; skin, lung, and metabolic disease, developmental delays, birth defects, and miscarriages. (Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) Nationally, there are thousands of sites of varying size and significance in setting that range from abandoned buildings in inner cities to large areas that are contaminated with harmful pollutants. (Source: EPA)

Soil pollution poses a worrisome threat to agricultural productivity, food safety, and human health, but far too little is known about the scale and severity of the situation. To establish baseline knowledge, we must work to understand the complex relationship between food systems and the people they serve, starting by examining the connection between soil health and the nutritional integrity of the food grown and ultimately human health outcomes.

Additionally, little is known about the role soil, and the microorganisms living there, play in remediating pollution and creating healthy environments. Investigation into bioremediation provide evidence that the primordial components of the natural environment can offer multiple routes to health. In the soil, microorganisms degrade harmful organic compounds to less toxic materials such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, water, and inorganic salts to reduce and ultimately end exposure to these contaminants (Source: EPA). Bioremediation is being used with increasing frequency to clean up waste at hazardous sites for the National Superfund Research Program. The Center has partnered with UofL’s Superfund Research Center to explore soil and air contamination.

A completed phytobarrier

A graphic detailing phyto mechanisms

Soil plays an important role in phytoremediation, a type of bioremediation that uses plants to neutralize harmful pollution in the soil.

To learn more about Intrinsyx’s phytoremediation work, read 10.1038/scientificamerican1117-19

Our History


The Center for Healthy Air Water and Soil focused its work in four areas in order to bring closer alignment between its mission and the Envirome's research. Read more about all the Center's activities in the 2018-2019 Progress Report

  • Creating a New Vision of Health through the Circle of Health and Harmony and creation of a Student Health Ambassador network. 
  • Researching the Role of Air Water and Soil: Incorporated a biodiversity and ecosystem service substudy to Green Heart Louisville, brought a butterfly hotel art installation to Semple Elementary School, and installed a pollen monitor in the Green Heart area to study changes over time.
  • Motivating Policy and Engaging the Public: informed the development of Healthy Louisville 2025 by incorporating the idea of green equity in the environmental equity goal, incorporated an equity lens into Louisville's Resilience Plan regarding green infrastructure, and hosted a satellite mini conference in tandem with the WHO's First Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health.  
  • Developing Technical Resources: Welcomed 8 SummerWorks Youth through a partnership with YouthBuild Louisville to build a tree health inventory for the neighborhoods in the Green Heart area, created a digital platform for Sustain Magazine through UofL Libraries, and introduced the Louisville community to primary research based in Louisville through City on Science.


The Center for Healthy Air Water and Soil expands work to include exploration of potential solutions to the negative effects of air pollution through partnerships with Louisville Metro Government, businesses, schools, and joins the University of Louisville (August 2018).

  • Healthy Plants Collection: based on NASA science, the Institute worked with a local Florist to curate a line of indoor plants designed to remedy certain kinds of air pollution common in home, office, and hospital environments. 
  • Green for Good: pilot project for Green Heart with 60 students and 24 teachers participating in a health study about the health impact of green infrastructure designed to mitigate roadway air pollution. 
  • Truck Route Planning: using AIRLouisville Data the Institute recommended bypassing diesel trucking routes away from residential areas.
  • The Circle of Harmony and Health: created a community-friendly framework to promote the understanding that health is not just the absence of disease, but the alignment of many kinds of health.
  • Compassionate Schools Project: a guide for new “Town and Gown” projects that identify new models of research that incorporate health into learning.


Institute for Healthy Air Water and Soil founded and launched a wide-ranging portfolio of work:

  • AIRLouisville: the first-of-its-kind data-driven collaboration among public, private, and philanthropic organizations to use digital health technology to improve asthma symptoms.
  • Low-cost Air Quality Monitoring Technology: to help people understand their air pollution risk.
  • AIRBARE: an art installation that helps people visualize and learn about the real-time ambient air pollution in their immediate environment. 
  • Louisville AirMap and connecting APCD monitors to Twitter: making air quality information actionable.
  • FooBot Indoor Air Monitoring: assisting the creators of an affordable indoor air monitor to improve their device’s usability and its app’s functionality.
  • Carnegie Mellon University’s SmellPittsburgh: created Smell Louisville to crowdsource reports of potential air pollution though an interactive map app.


Center for Interfaith Relations explores the realities of our “Commons” and Health leading to the 300-person asthma pilot project with Propeller Health.