COPH Researcher Focuses on Contaminant Exposure in Underserved Communities

COPH Researcher Focuses on Contaminant Exposure in Underserved Communities

By Gerri KellyUA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health
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Paloma Beamer
Paloma Beamer
Paloma Beamer did a bit of sightseeing at Taroko National Park near Hualien City, Taiwan in June. The purpose of her visit was twofold: to participate in an international exposure conference, and to observe and provide expertise to a research group at Taipei Medical University.
Paloma Beamer did a bit of sightseeing at Taroko National Park near Hualien City, Taiwan in June. The purpose of her visit was twofold: to participate in an international exposure conference, and to observe and provide expertise to a research group at Taipei Medical University.

Growing up binational, bicultural and bilingual, Paloma Beamer always knew she wanted to devote her career to helping those less fortunate.

Today she is an assistant professor of environmental health sciences in the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and an environmental engineer and researcher at the Arizona Respiratory Center.

Her research focuses on the development of tools that can help provide more precise exposure and dose estimates of pollutants and improve the demonstration of a relationship between measured environmental concentrations and resulting health effects, particularly among children and underserved populations. Her work always has centered on improving social injustices from an environmental point of view.

“Diseases caused by environmental and occupational exposures are by definition preventable. Segments within our population such as children and low-income communities face a disproportionate burden of these exposures and diseases,” said Beamer, who was chosen for the 2012 list of Tucson's "40 Under 40."

With $666,000 in funding from a career development grant from the National Institutes of Health, Beamer is studying how exposure to environmental pollutants may lead to the development of respiratory disease in children, particularly in vulnerable and underserved populations.

In a recent study conducted in Nogales, Ariz., Beamer reported levels of the industrial solvent trichloroethylene in human milk, providing the first data of its kind. TCE primarily is used to remove grease from fabricated metal parts. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies TCE as a carcinogen and regulates the solvent's levels in drinking water. The research was published in the journal Environmental Science Technology.

“I feel that understanding the role these exposures have in these underserved communities is where my identity and my skills as a scientist can be put to the best use,” Beamer said.

Beamer teaches advanced graduate courses, including "Applied Exposure Assessment," a field based course where students measure exposure levels of students working at the UA San Xavier Underground Mining Laboratory, and "Control of Occupational Exposures," which primarily focuses on giving students training in engineering controls through problem sets, hands -on laboratory work and field experience.

In her free time, Beamer runs a community garden in her neighborhood. The organic garden does not use pesticides and gardeners plant according to the desert seasons. “I enjoy working in the garden as a break from sitting at my computer. There is something very satisfying about the physical labor and the sense of accomplishment when I have weeded a bed or planted a new one,” Beamer says.

Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Beamer has been in Tucson since she joined the Zuckerman College of Public Health in 2007. She and her husband, Nolan Cabrera, an assistant professor in the UA Center for the Study of Higher Education, have a 3-year-old son named Joaquin.

“What I like about Tucson is the laid-back attitude, the lack of traffic and the cost of living,” Beamer said.

Beamer earned her Bachelor of Science in civil and environmental engineering from the University of California-Berkeley and both her Master of Science and doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from Stanford University.

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