The PFAS Project Lab

Studying Social, Scientific, and Political Factors of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances

The Team

Phil Brown
Co-Director
Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute
University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences
p.brown@northeastern.edu

Phil Brown is University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Health Science at Northeastern University, where he directs the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute and co-directs its PFAS Project lab. He is PI of the past NSF grant “Perfluorinated Chemicals: The Social Discovery of a Class of Emerging Contaminants” and of the current NSF grant “The New Chemical Class Activism: Mobilization Around Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances.” He is Multiple PI of the NIEHS grant “Health Assessment, Public Education, and Capacity-building in Communities Impacted by PFAS-contaminated Drinking Water,” which studies children’s immune responses to PFAS and community response to contamination, and to develop a nationwide report-back and information exchange. He directs an NIEHS T-32 training program, “Transdisciplinary Training at the Intersection of Environmental Health and Social Science,” heads the Community Outreach and Translation Core of Northeastern’s Children’s Environmental Health Center (Center for Research on Early Childhood Exposure and Development in Puerto Rico/CRECE) and serves as Research Translation Coordinator and Co-Director of the Community Engagement Core of Northeastern’s Superfund Research Program (Puerto Rico Testsite to Explore Contamination Threats (PROTECT).

In addition to PFAS, he studies biomonitoring and household exposure, social policy and regulation concerning flame retardants, reporting back data to participants, and health social movements. He received the 2012 Leo G. Reeder Award for Distinguished Contribution to Medical Sociology (American Sociological Association Medical Sociology Section) and the 2006 Fred Buttel Distinguished Contribution to Environmental Sociology Award and 2015 Environmental Sociology Practice and Outreach Award from the American Sociological Association Environmental Sociology Section. His books include No Safe Place:  Toxic Waste, Leukemia, and Community Action, Toxic Exposures: Contested Illnesses and the Environmental Health Movement, and Contested Illnesses: Citizens, Science and Health Social Movements.


Alissa Cordner
Co-Director
Associate Professor of Sociology
Whitman College
cordneaa@whitman.edu

Alissa Cordner is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Paul Garrett Fellow 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. Toxic Safety was awarded the 2018 Schnaiberg Outstanding Publication Award from the American Sociological Association’s Section on Environmental Sociology. 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. She also studies the sociological aspects of wildfire risk management in the Northwest with a focus on firefighter safety, public safety, and resource management.  


LaurenR_Switzer

Lauren Richter
Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Rhode Island School of Design
lrichter@risd.edu

Lauren Richter is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she teaches and does research on social inequality and the environment. She uses qualitative interviews, ethnography, and archival approaches to broadly examine responses to adverse environmental health impacts. Currently she studies U.S. regulatory frameworks and scientific knowledge/ignorance production to understand how inequality shapes pollution exposure and recourse.

Prior to joining RISD, Lauren received a Leadership Grant from the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation, spending a year as a research fellow at the Silent Spring Institute and Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University. Between M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, she worked at the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment in California, and taught courses on Environmental Justice at the University of San Francisco. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology from Northeastern University. 


Julia Varshavsky
Assistant Professor of Environmental Health
Northeastern University
PhD, MPH
julia.varshavsky@gmail.com

Julia Varshavsky is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Health at Northeastern University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Health Sciences, Bouvé College of Health Sciences, and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering. She will be focusing on environmental exposures and maternal-child health outcomes and will continue to work on biomonitoring studies and advancing risk assessment in vulnerable communities. Before joining Northeastern, Julia served as a research scientist for the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA, Cal EPA) to conduct biomonitoring studies of health-related chemical exposures, and before that was a postdoctoral researcher in environmental epidemiology and biostatistics for the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE) at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), where she conducted biologically-based population-level studies on exposure and health risks associated with endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), including polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs), and organophosphate flame retardants (OPFRs). Specifically, her recent work highlights maternal-fetal exposure to PBDEs, PFASs, and OPFRs during mid-gestation in relation to biomarkers of placental development and disease that are associated with maternal and fetal health complications. Julia earned her MPH and PhD in environmental health sciences at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health. Her dissertation research focused on developing methods for; characterizing disparities in, and evaluating dietary sources of, cumulative phthalates exposure. Prior to graduate school, Julia facilitated scientific dialogue and research translation around developmental impacts of environmental contaminants as the Reproductive Health Working Group coordinator for the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE).


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.


Martha Powers
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Northeastern University
m.powers@northeastern.edu

Martha Powers is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Northeastern University. She is working to evaluate immune system effects in children in communities with prior PFAS water contamination, and to document the experiences of affected community members. She was awarded an F31 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for her dissertation research on evaluating the relationship between exposure to inorganic arsenic and nonmalignant respiratory health outcomes in American Indian communities. She completed her Master of Public Health and Master of Environmental Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and received her PhD in environmental epidemiology and exposure science from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.


Rosie Mueller
Assistant Professor of Economics
Whitman College
muellerm@whitman.edu

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.


Grace Poudrier
Sociology PhD Student
Northeastern University
poudrier.g@husky.neu.edu

Grace Poudrier is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Northeastern University, a research assistant at the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI), and a member of the Environmental Data Justice Initiative (EDGI). She studies mechanisms of knowledge production, ignorance, and agnotology in the field of environmental health, particularly in the contexts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and hydraulic fracturing. Her work draws from the sociology of the environment, medicine, and STS, and has been published in Engaging Science, Technology, and SocietyEnvironmental Research and Public Health, and Sexual Medicine. Prior to graduate school, Grace worked in clinical research at NYU Langone Medical Center, where she coordinated mixed methods research on gender affirming surgery for 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.


Miranda Dotson
Sociology and Anthropology PhD Student
Northeastern University
mirandapdotson@gmail.com

Miranda Dotson is a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, whose research focus includes examining the impacts of community-based participatory research in local efforts to fight for 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.


Maddy Poehlein
Postgraduate Research Assistant
maddypoehlein@gmail.com

Maddy Poehlein graduated from Whitman College in 2018 with a BA in Politics and Environmental Studies. She became interested in environmental health through taking Environmental Justice and Environmental Health classes with Professor Cordner and completed a summer internship with Alaska Community Action on Toxics where she learned about the chemical exposures of Alaska Native communities on St. Lawrence Island due to military contamination. Her Honors thesis investigated the intersection of environmental degradation and continued settler colonialism in Alaska.
Currently, she is volunteering with the PFAS Lab and taking prerequisite classes to prepare for Public Health school applications. She is interested in pursuing a Master’s in Public Health with focus on environmental health systems. Specifically, she is interested in the intersection of societal inequities, public health, and the health of the environment. 


Ricky Salvatore
Undergraduate Research Assistant
Northeastern University
salvatore.d@northeastern.edu

Ricky Salvatore is a fourth-year undergraduate student at Northeastern University pursuing a B.S. in environmental science and mathematics. He is interested in the application of statistical analysis to environmental and health sciences, in an effort to address systemic injustices facing disadvantaged communities across the country and throughout the world. He is member of Northeastern’s SSEHRI and joined the PFAS project in July 2020, primarily working on the contamination site tracker and project website. Ricky is from New Hampshire, and became interested in studying environmental health problems when PFAS-related cancer clusters were identified in a nearby town. He plans to continue learning about and focusing on environmental justice for the remainder of his time at Northeastern and beyond.


Kira Mok
Undergraduate Research Assistant 
Northeastern University 
mok.k@northeastern.edu

Kira Mok is a second-year undergraduate honors student at Northeastern University pursuing a combined Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Environmental Studies. She has worked as a research assistant in the Wylie Lab since January 2020. Her work in the Wylie Lab focuses on low-cost citizen science testing of hydrogen sulfide and other pollutants on homes near oil and gas facilities in Texas. She is also part of a grant proposal for a study that will test the importance of a gratitude-based mindset, which emphasizes the services EJ communities provide to the affluent surrounding areas. These experiences have furthered her interest in community-based research and environmental justice. She is excited to be a research assistant in the PFAS lab where she will focus on the contamination site tracker and the project website. She plans to engage in, throughout her undergraduate career and beyond, research that advocates for communities disproportionately affected by environmental issues. 


Bertine Lakjohn
Undergraduate Research Assistant
Whitman College
lakjohbr@whitman.edu

Bertine Rose Lakjohn is a second-year undergraduate student at Whitman College from the Marshall Islands, pursuing a combined degree in Environmental Studies and Sociology. Bertine became interested in environmental justice through her various work as a climate activist for the Marshall Islands. In the past, Bertine has worked as a facilitator for the 2019 Youth Leadership Coalition:Combating Climate Change, Green-ticket Delegate for the 2019 UN Youth Climate Summit, and as a guest speaker for the 2020 YMCA Youth Climate Summit. Currently, Bertine works as a youth council member for TED Countdown, a global initiative that strives to accelerate solutions into action to tackle the climate crisis. She now aspires to expand her scope in environmental justice thus she is looking forward to being a research assistant for the PFAS project where she will for the first time be investigating closely the detrimental harms from PFAS contamination onto the environment and health. She plans to continue enhancing and expanding her work in environmental justice for the rest of her time in Whitman and beyond.  


Anna Allgeyer
Undergraduate Research Assistant
Whitman College
allgeyac@whitman.edu

Anna Allgeyer is a fourth-year undergraduate student at Whitman College pursuing a combined bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies – Sociology. She joined the PFAS project in June 2021 as an undergraduate research assistant. Anna became involved in environmental justice work through student environmental organizing at Whitman. She is interested in the application of sociological thought to environmental issues and has recently begun to focus her studies on environmental health, and is particularly invested in community organizing as a strategy to combat environmental contamination.


Lilyana Ibañez
Undergraduate Research Assistant 
Northeastern University 
ibanez.l@northeastern.edu

Lilyana Ibañez is a third-year undergraduate honors student at Northeastern University pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs with minors in Global Health and Biology. She joined the PFAS project in July of 2021 as an undergraduate research assistant. Her work in the PFAS lab will focus on the contamination site tracker and the project website. Lilyana’s interest in environmental studies developed during her courses in public health while evaluating how the global burden of disease is closely related to issues regarding environmental justice. She is also interested in epidemiological studies to identify chemical contamination within affected communities. She plans to be an advocate for those who are disproportionately impacted by environmental racism for the remainder of her time at Northeastern and throughout her future career in public health.


Past Members

Cole Alder
Undergraduate Research Assistant
Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute
Northeastern University
alder.c@husky.neu.edu

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.


Elicia Cousins
Sociology PhD Student
Northeastern University
cousins.e@husky.neu.edu

Elicia is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Northeastern University, and she is also a member of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI). Her dissertation research focuses on contested narratives about radiation health effects after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011. This research draws largely from extensive volunteer experience and participant observation at nature-focused recuperation retreats for children and mothers still living in contaminated areas, and sheds light on the gendered burdens of daily mitigation of toxic exposures. Through her work with SSEHRI, Elicia has also conducted research on voluntary corporate commitments to reduce the use of PFASs in consumer products. Elicia is from Tokyo, Japan, and received her BA in Environmental Studies from Carleton College. 


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Tibrine Da Fonseca
Sociology PhD Student
Northeastern University
dafonseca.t@husky.neu.edu

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.


Helena Zindel
Undergraduate Research Assistant
Whitman College
zindelhg@whitman.edu

Helena Zindel is a 4th-year undergraduate student at Whitman College pursuing a BA in Sociology. She has been a research assistant with the PFAS project since May 2020, splitting her time between maintaining the Contamination Site Tracker and projects relating to state website messaging on PFAS as well as PFAS blood testing. Helena became interested in environmental justice through her work with refugees at the International Rescue Committee in Sacramento, where she developed and taught curriculum on food access and food security in her community. She is interested in pursuing food access education and activism in Northern California and hopes to continue exploring the connections between environmental justice and food security after she graduates. 


Bella Raponi
Undergraduate Research Assistant
Northeastern University
raponi.i@northeastern.edu

Bella Raponi is a third-year undergraduate student at Northeastern University pursuing a combined Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and Chemistry. She became a research assistant on the PFAS project in July 2020 and focuses on the contamination site tracker and the project website. She first became interested in environmental chemistry on a research expedition aboard the R/V Sikuliaq where she travelled from San Diego, California to Seward, Alaska. This was followed by a field study abroad in Iceland for volcanic and glacial processes; these diverse experiences further developed Bella’s interest in environmental issues and led her to the PFAS Project for her first co-op.

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