Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances

The Social Discovery of a Class of Emerging Contaminants

The Team

Phil Brown
Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute
University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences

Phil Brown is University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences at Northeastern University, where he directs the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute that includes a National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences Training Grant to educate and train people in such collaborations. He is the author of No Safe Place: Toxic Waste, Leukemia, and Community Action, and Toxic Exposures: Contested Illnesses and the Environmental Health Movement, and co-editor of Social Movements in Health, and Contested Illnesses: Citizens, Science and Health Social Movements.

He studies biomonitoring and household exposure, social policy and regulation concerning flame retardants and PFASs, reporting back data to participants, and health social movements. He is PI of the NSF grant “Perfluorinated Chemicals: The Social Discovery of a Class of Emerging Contaminants.” He is co-director of the Community Engagement Core and director of the Research Translation Core for Northeastern’s Superfund Research Program PROTECT (Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats), and co-director of the Community Outreach and Translation Core of Northeastern’s Children’s Environmental Health Center CRECE (Center for Research on Early Childhood Exposure and Development in Puerto Rico). He received the 2015 Environmental Sociology Practice and Outreach Award from the Environmental Sociology and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association.

Alissa Cordner
Assistant Professor of Sociology
Whitman College

Alissa Cordner is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Whitman College, where she teaches Sociology and Environmental Studies courses. Her research interests include environmental sociology, environmental health and justice, risk and disasters, science and knowledge, social movements, and policy and participation. She received her Ph.D. in sociology from Brown University.

Her 2016 book, Toxic Safety: Flame Retardants, Scientific Controversies, and Environmental Health (Columbia University Press), examines the sociological aspects of risk assessment in industry, regulation, research, and activism. Her work has been published in leading sociology, environmental studies, and science and technology studies journals, including the American Journal of SociologyEnvironmental SociologyScience, Technology & Human Values, the Journal of Environmental Studies and SciencesSocial Science & MedicineEnvironmental Science & Technology, and Sociological Forum.

Dr. Cordner has conducted extensive research on the regulation, research, and activism related to industrial chemicals, and is currently studying the sociological aspects of wildfire risk management in the Northwest. She is also a Fellow in the NSF-funded Enabling the Next Generation of Hazards and Disasters Researchers Program.

Lauren Richter
Sociology Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Northeastern University


Lauren Richter joined the doctoral program in Sociology and Anthropology at Northeastern University in 2013. She is a member of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute. Prior to pursuing her Ph.D. she worked at the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, and completed an M.A. in Sociology from Washington State University in 2008. She is on the board of directors of the environmental justice organization Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE).

She currently works as a research assistant on Dr. Phil Brown and Dr. Alissa Cordner’s NSF grant “Perflourinated Chemicals: The Social Discovery of a Class of Emerging Contaminants.” Her research interests include environmental health, environmental justice, and identity. In 2015 she received the graduate department’s “Outstanding Public and Applied Research Award.”

Jennifer Liss Ohayon
Research Scientist
Silent Spring Institute
Affiliate Research Associate
Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute
Northeastern University

Jennie Liss Ohayon is a Research Scientist at Silent Spring Institute and Affiliate Research Associate with SSEHRI, specializing in environmental policy, community-engaged research, and environmental justice. She researches the emergence of scientific and activist concerns around industrial chemicals with Northeastern’s PFAS lab and, in collaboration with co-investigators at the University of California, Berkeley, is evaluating the effectiveness of California-based legislation that aims to reduce or eliminate exposures to toxic substances. She is also working on projects to report back to study participants and community partners in the U.S. and Chile their exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals. 

Dr. Ohayon completed her PhD at the University of California, Santa Cruz researching the remediation of toxic waste in military Superfund sites. With research support from the EPA’s Science to Achieve Results fellowship and the National Science Foundation, she did fieldwork to evaluate how policy around public participation and environmental justice is translated into cleanup programs. She also used data from all military Superfund sites for quantitative and spatial analyses of how factors such as the race and class demographics of surrounding neighborhoods contribute to how quickly sites are remediated. During this time, she created an interactive curriculum in environmental sciences for high school students that are disproportionately affected by environmental problems and who come from communities that are underrepresented in the field of environmental science.

Rosie Mueller Assistant Professor of Economics Whitman College

Rosie Mueller is an Assistant Professor at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. Her research focuses on environmental health and environmental justice issues related to natural resource extraction and exposure to environmental pollutants. She uses quantitative and spatial analysis techniques to document associations between exposure to environmental factors and demographic characteristics of exposed populations. Additionally, she has work documenting health disparities in coal mining communities in Appalachia. 

In the economics department at Whitman, she teaches core classes in microeconomic theory, applied econometrics, and environmental and natural resource economics. She received a Ph.D in Economics from the University of Oregon.

Cole Alder
Undergraduate Research Assistant
Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute
Northeastern University

Cole Alder is a 4th year undergraduate student at Northeastern University pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and minors in Environmental Studies and Ethics. He has been a research assistant on the PFAS team for over two years, primarily maintaining the Contamination Site Tracker and website. He previously served as a research associate on the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative’s (EDGI) web monitoring team, where he co-authored a publication in Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, titled “Learning in Crisis: Training students to monitor and address irresponsible knowledge construction by U.S. federal agencies under Trump”. Cole became focused on issues of environmental, racial, and economic justice while volunteering for political campaigns in his home town, Richmond, VA, and has continued that work in Boston. He conducted previous research on philanthropy and its impacts on public health with Northeastern professor Patricia Illingworth.

Grace Poudrier
Sociology PhD Student
Northeastern University

Grace Poudrier is a member of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI) and a PhD student in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Northeastern University. She is interested in how embodied illness experience and citizen science are used to challenge orthodox science and knowledge-making practices, as well as to evince corporate accountability for chemical and environmental violence. Her work draws from environmental sociology, medical sociology, and STS. Prior to Northeastern, Grace worked in clinical research at NYU Langone, where she coordinated mixed-methods research on gender affirming surgery in the Hansjorg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery. She received her B.A from Sarah Lawrence College in 2011, where she studied the sociology of health, illness, and environmental health politics.

Elicia Cousins
Sociology PhD Student
Northeastern University


Elicia Cousins is a doctoral student in sociology and a research assistant in SSEHRI. She is from Tokyo, Japan and received her BA in Environmental Studies from Carleton College in Minnesota. Her previous research addressed nuclear power and environmental justice in the US and Japan, and she continues to be involved in relief work for children still living in contaminated areas of Fukushima. Based on this work, she is interested in the potential for nature immersion to promote physical and psychological health for children exposed to toxins and traumatic events. Elicia is currently researching retailer and consumer-based campaigns to reduce emerging chemical exposure, as well as the ethical barriers to reporting individual biomonitoring and personal exposure results to study participants. She is also interested in pursuing research on food justice and activism, and knowledge production surrounding nutrition and illness.

Tibrine Da Fonseca
Sociology PhD Student
Northeastern University


Tibrine is a first year PhD student in the department of Sociology and Anthropology, and supports both the work of SSEHRI and the Institute on Urban Health Research and Practice (IUHRP) at Northeastern University.  She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Spanish from Simmons College. 

Prior to coming to Northeastern University Tibrine worked as Lead Paralegal with the Medical-Legal Partnership Boston, working to address the social determinants of health by bringing health care and legal professionals together to address the needs of low-income and medically vulnerable patients.  Her area of focus was the impact of substandard housing conditions and utility access on childhood asthma.  She also spent two years operating a welcome center for urban refugees from the Colombian conflict as well as other parts of the world in Quito, Ecuador.  Tibrine’s research interests include the social determinants of health, community-based participatory research, and the intersection of immigrant rights and environmental justice.

Marina Atlas
MPH Student
Northeastern University

Marina Goreau is a second-year MPH student at Northeastern. She is a graduate of Brandeis University, where she received highest honors for her thesis on regulatory barriers to effective personal care product ingredient regulation under the FDA’s Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Prior to her studies at Northeastern, Marina worked for 5 years with the US EPA, Region 1 on toxics regulation while also providing free community assistance and outreach to over 70 communities in New England by reducing risk of toxic chemical exposure in schools. Marina seeks to gain a deeper understanding of epidemiological methods and biostatistical tools for identifying environmental contaminants in communities. She is interested in studying issues of environmental health and justice, especially with regard to reproductive and urban health.

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