Statistics and environment: mathematics will save us

Dec 22, 2016 | written by:

If in the past decade in the United States you can breathe a better air is also credited with an Italian woman. His name is Francesca Dominici and for her discoveries in the field of statistics, which revolutionized the American health policies, was renamed 'numerical detective'.

Dr. Dominici is a renowned expert in analyzing huge data sets to ferret out hidden environmental causes of disease. Her findings, published in October 2013 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) examining the health risks associated with airport noise, has reverberated across the field”. This reads the biography on the website of the scientist, recognized in 2016 as one of 38 most influential Italian researchers in the world, inserted by ONDA, the l’Osservatorio Nazionale sulla Salute della Donna, in the rankings 'Top Italian Women Scientists’, and identified by Thomson Reuters from 1% of the most cited researchers in his discipline worldwide.

"Use mathematics to solve real problems and real: it changes the way we live." This, says Dominici, is why she loves so much biostatistics. Working in collaboration with scientists at Harvard University, University in Massachusetts where she has taught since 2009, the Italian scientist was able to provide compelling evidence about the damages that climate change, air and noise pollution cause to the health of the population. The results of this research, going through the analysis of terabytes of data, generated direct impact on clean air limits imposed and on American health policies.

"In the last 10 years - says Dominici - we were able to show that the highest levels of air pollutants established by the Agency for the US Environmental Protection were not harmless as previously thought. And then they were reduced, in particular for the ultra fine particles, the 2.5 pm". A great success for the citizens and the environment. Studies carried out by the Italian scientist teams have also shown that high levels of presence of fine particles increase of 6.8% the risk of cardiovascular disorders; effects comparable to those of passive smoking.

But the best-known study of the Dr. Dominici had as its object of investigation an Italian situation. Grown in Ciampino, home to the second airport of Rome, the researcher analyzed the risks that the proximity of an airport generates on human health and has been shown as the noise pollution caused by this infrastructure will lead to an increase in hospitalization for cardiovascular disease 3.5% for every decibel.

The research in the field of biostatistics in Italy do not stop there: is about to end, the next 31 of December, a research approved in 2013 by the European Commission under the LIFE + Programme 2012, Environment Policy and Governance. The project, called MAPEC_LIFE, ie "Monitoring Air Pollution Effects on Children for supporting public health policy", is the first statistical study of the biological effects in children of 6-8 years of airborne pollutants. Conducted on residents in five Italian cities (Turin, Brescia, Lecce, Perugia and Pisa), the investigation has linked the concentration of some air pollutants, the socio-demographic characteristics and the children's lifestyles.

The results were not forthcoming, but it seems increasingly clear that statistical analysis, environmental protection and health are linked more than in glove.

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