April 2024
Defining a systems framework for characterizing physical work demands with wearable sensors
Leia Stirling

Ann Work Expo Health. 2024 Apr 10:wxae024. doi: 10.1093/annweh/wxae024. Online ahead of print.


Measuring the physical demands of work is important in understanding the relationship between exposure to these job demands and their impact on the safety, health, and well-being of working people. However, work is changing and our knowledge of job demands should also evolve in anticipation of these changes. New opportunities exist for noninvasive long-term measures of physical demands through wearable motion sensors, including inertial measurement units, heart rate monitors, and muscle activity monitors. Inertial measurement units combine accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers to provide continuous measurement of a segment’s motion and the ability to estimate orientation in 3-dimensional space. There is a need for a system-thinking perspective on how and when to apply these wearable sensors within the context of research and practice surrounding the measurement of physical job demands. In this paper, a framework is presented for measuring the physical work demands that can guide designers, researchers, and users to integrate and implement these advanced sensor technologies in a way that is relevant to the decision-making needs for physical demand assessment. We (i) present a literature review of the way physical demands are currently being measured, (ii) present a framework that extends the International Classification of Functioning to guide how technology can measure the facets of work, (iii) provide a background on wearable motion sensing, and (iv) define 3 categories of decision-making that influence the questions that we can ask and measures that are needed. By forming questions within these categories at each level of the framework, this approach encourages thinking about the systems-level problems inherent in the workplace and how they manifest at different scales. Applying this framework provides a systems approach to guide study designs and methodological approaches to study how work is changing and how it impacts worker safety, health, and well-being.

PMID:38597679 | DOI:10.1093/annweh/wxae024

April 2024
Associations of maternal blood metal concentrations with plasma eicosanoids among pregnant women in Puerto Rico
John D Meeker

Sci Total Environ. 2024 Apr 6:172295. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.172295. Online ahead of print.


BACKGROUND/AIM: Heavy metals are known to induce oxidative stress and inflammation, and the association between metal exposure and adverse birth outcomes is well established. However, there lacks research on biomarker profiles linking metal exposures and adverse birth outcomes. Eicosanoids are lipid molecules that regulate inflammation in the body, and there is growing evidence that suggests associations between plasma eicosanoids and pregnancy outcomes. Eicosanoids may aid our understanding of etiologic birth pathways. Here, we assessed associations between maternal blood metal concentrations with eicosanoid profiles among 654 pregnant women in the Puerto Rico PROTECT birth cohort.

METHODS: We measured concentrations of 11 metals in whole blood collected at median 18 and 26 weeks of pregnancy, and eicosanoid profiles measured in plasma collected at median 26 weeks. Multivariable linear models were used to regress eicosanoids on metals concentrations. Effect modification by infant sex was explored using interaction terms.

RESULTS: A total of 55 eicosanoids were profiled. Notably, 12-oxoeicosatetraenoic acid (12-oxoETE) and 15-oxoeicosatetraenoic acid (15-oxoETE), both of which exert inflammatory activities, had the greatest number of significant associations with metal concentrations. These eicosanoids were associated with increased concentrations of Cu, Mn, and Zn, and decreased concentrations of Cd, Co, Ni, and Pb, with the strongest effect sizes observed for 12-oxoETE and Pb (β:-33.5,95 %CI:-42.9,-22.6) and 15-oxoETE and Sn (β:43.2,95 %CI:11.4,84.1). Also, we observed differences in metals-eicosanoid associations by infant sex. Particularly, Cs and Mn had the most infant sex-specific significant associations with eicosanoids, which were primarily driven by female fetuses. All significant sex-specific associations with Cs were inverse among females, while significant sex-specific associations with Mn among females were positive within the cyclooxygenase group but inverse among the lipoxygenase group.

CONCLUSION: Certain metals were significantly associated with eicosanoids that are responsible for regulating inflammatory responses. Eicosanoid-metal associations may suggest a role for eicosanoids in mediating metal-induced adverse birth outcomes.

PMID:38588744 | DOI:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.172295

April 2024
Residential exposure associations with ALS risk, survival, and phenotype: a Michigan-based case-control study
Stuart A Batterman

Amyotroph Lateral Scler Frontotemporal Degener. 2024 Apr 1:1-11. doi: 10.1080/21678421.2024.2336110. Online ahead of print.


Background: Environmental exposures impact amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) risk and progression, a fatal and progressive neurodegenerative disease. Better characterization of these exposures is needed to decrease disease burden. Objective: To identify exposures in the residential setting that associate with ALS risk, survival, and onset segment. Methods: ALS and control participants recruited from University of Michigan completed a survey that ascertained exposure risks in the residential setting. ALS risk was assessed using logistic regression models followed by latent profile analysis to consider exposure profiles. A case-only analysis considered the contribution of the residential exposure variables via a Cox proportional hazards model for survival outcomes and multinomial logistic regression for onset segment, a polytomous outcome. Results: This study included 367 ALS and 255 control participants. Twelve residential variables were associated with ALS risk after correcting for multiple comparison testing, with storage in an attached garage of chemical products including gasoline or kerosene (odds ratio (OR) = 1.14, padjusted < 0.001), gasoline-powered equipment (OR = 1.16, padjusted < 0.001), and lawn care products (OR = 1.15, padjusted < 0.001) representing the top three risk factors sorted by padjusted. Latent profile analysis indicated that storage of these chemical products in both attached and detached garages increased ALS risk. Although residential variables were not associated with poorer ALS survival following multiple testing corrections, storing pesticides, lawn care products, and woodworking supplies in the home were associated with shorter ALS survival using nominal p values. No exposures were associated with ALS onset segment. Conclusion: Residential exposures may be important modifiable components of the ALS susceptibility and prognosis exposome.

PMID:38557405 | DOI:10.1080/21678421.2024.2336110

March 2024
Clinical laboratory equipment manufacturers’ lack of guidance for high consequence pathogen response is a critical weakness
Aurora B Le

Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2024 Mar 25:1-3. doi: 10.1017/ice.2024.39. Online ahead of print.


PMID:38525674 | DOI:10.1017/ice.2024.39

March 2024
Global fertility in 204 countries and territories, 1950-2021, with forecasts to 2100: a comprehensive demographic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2021
Alexis J Handal

Lancet. 2024 Mar 19:S0140-6736(24)00550-6. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(24)00550-6. Online ahead of print.


BACKGROUND: Accurate assessments of current and future fertility-including overall trends and changing population age structures across countries and regions-are essential to help plan for the profound social, economic, environmental, and geopolitical challenges that these changes will bring. Estimates and projections of fertility are necessary to inform policies involving resource and health-care needs, labour supply, education, gender equality, and family planning and support. The Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2021 produced up-to-date and comprehensive demographic assessments of key fertility indicators at global, regional, and national levels from 1950 to 2021 and forecast fertility metrics to 2100 based on a reference scenario and key policy-dependent alternative scenarios.

METHODS: To estimate fertility indicators from 1950 to 2021, mixed-effects regression models and spatiotemporal Gaussian process regression were used to synthesise data from 8709 country-years of vital and sample registrations, 1455 surveys and censuses, and 150 other sources, and to generate age-specific fertility rates (ASFRs) for 5-year age groups from age 10 years to 54 years. ASFRs were summed across age groups to produce estimates of total fertility rate (TFR). Livebirths were calculated by multiplying ASFR and age-specific female population, then summing across ages 10-54 years. To forecast future fertility up to 2100, our Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecasting model was based on projections of completed cohort fertility at age 50 years (CCF50; the average number of children born over time to females from a specified birth cohort), which yields more stable and accurate measures of fertility than directly modelling TFR. CCF50 was modelled using an ensemble approach in which three sub-models (with two, three, and four covariates variously consisting of female educational attainment, contraceptive met need, population density in habitable areas, and under-5 mortality) were given equal weights, and analyses were conducted utilising the MR-BRT (meta-regression-Bayesian, regularised, trimmed) tool. To capture time-series trends in CCF50 not explained by these covariates, we used a first-order autoregressive model on the residual term. CCF50 as a proportion of each 5-year ASFR was predicted using a linear mixed-effects model with fixed-effects covariates (female educational attainment and contraceptive met need) and random intercepts for geographical regions. Projected TFRs were then computed for each calendar year as the sum of single-year ASFRs across age groups. The reference forecast is our estimate of the most likely fertility future given the model, past fertility, forecasts of covariates, and historical relationships between covariates and fertility. We additionally produced forecasts for multiple alternative scenarios in each location: the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for education is achieved by 2030; the contraceptive met need SDG is achieved by 2030; pro-natal policies are enacted to create supportive environments for those who give birth; and the previous three scenarios combined. Uncertainty from past data inputs and model estimation was propagated throughout analyses by taking 1000 draws for past and present fertility estimates and 500 draws for future forecasts from the estimated distribution for each metric, with 95% uncertainty intervals (UIs) given as the 2·5 and 97·5 percentiles of the draws. To evaluate the forecasting performance of our model and others, we computed skill values-a metric assessing gain in forecasting accuracy-by comparing predicted versus observed ASFRs from the past 15 years (2007-21). A positive skill metric indicates that the model being evaluated performs better than the baseline model (here, a simplified model holding 2007 values constant in the future), and a negative metric indicates that the evaluated model performs worse than baseline.

FINDINGS: During the period from 1950 to 2021, global TFR more than halved, from 4·84 (95% UI 4·63-5·06) to 2·23 (2·09-2·38). Global annual livebirths peaked in 2016 at 142 million (95% UI 137-147), declining to 129 million (121-138) in 2021. Fertility rates declined in all countries and territories since 1950, with TFR remaining above 2·1-canonically considered replacement-level fertility-in 94 (46·1%) countries and territories in 2021. This included 44 of 46 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which was the super-region with the largest share of livebirths in 2021 (29·2% [28·7-29·6]). 47 countries and territories in which lowest estimated fertility between 1950 and 2021 was below replacement experienced one or more subsequent years with higher fertility; only three of these locations rebounded above replacement levels. Future fertility rates were projected to continue to decline worldwide, reaching a global TFR of 1·83 (1·59-2·08) in 2050 and 1·59 (1·25-1·96) in 2100 under the reference scenario. The number of countries and territories with fertility rates remaining above replacement was forecast to be 49 (24·0%) in 2050 and only six (2·9%) in 2100, with three of these six countries included in the 2021 World Bank-defined low-income group, all located in the GBD super-region of sub-Saharan Africa. The proportion of livebirths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa was forecast to increase to more than half of the world’s livebirths in 2100, to 41·3% (39·6-43·1) in 2050 and 54·3% (47·1-59·5) in 2100. The share of livebirths was projected to decline between 2021 and 2100 in most of the six other super-regions-decreasing, for example, in south Asia from 24·8% (23·7-25·8) in 2021 to 16·7% (14·3-19·1) in 2050 and 7·1% (4·4-10·1) in 2100-but was forecast to increase modestly in the north Africa and Middle East and high-income super-regions. Forecast estimates for the alternative combined scenario suggest that meeting SDG targets for education and contraceptive met need, as well as implementing pro-natal policies, would result in global TFRs of 1·65 (1·40-1·92) in 2050 and 1·62 (1·35-1·95) in 2100. The forecasting skill metric values for the IHME model were positive across all age groups, indicating that the model is better than the constant prediction.

INTERPRETATION: Fertility is declining globally, with rates in more than half of all countries and territories in 2021 below replacement level. Trends since 2000 show considerable heterogeneity in the steepness of declines, and only a small number of countries experienced even a slight fertility rebound after their lowest observed rate, with none reaching replacement level. Additionally, the distribution of livebirths across the globe is shifting, with a greater proportion occurring in the lowest-income countries. Future fertility rates will continue to decline worldwide and will remain low even under successful implementation of pro-natal policies. These changes will have far-reaching economic and societal consequences due to ageing populations and declining workforces in higher-income countries, combined with an increasing share of livebirths among the already poorest regions of the world.

FUNDING: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

PMID:38521087 | DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(24)00550-6

March 2024
Statistical methods for chemical mixtures: a roadmap for practitioners
John D Meeker

medRxiv [Preprint]. 2024 Mar 4:2024.03.03.24303677. doi: 10.1101/2024.03.03.24303677.


Quantitative characterization of the health impacts associated with exposure to chemical mixtures has received considerable attention in current environmental and epidemiological studies. With many existing statistical methods and emerging approaches, it is important for practitioners to understand when each method is best suited for their inferential goals. In this study, we conduct a review and comparison of 11 analytical methods available for use in mixtures research, through extensive simulation studies for continuous and binary outcomes. These methods fall in three different classes: identifying important components of a mixture, identifying interactions and creating a summary score for risk stratification and prediction. We carry out an illustrative data analysis in the PROTECT birth cohort from Puerto Rico. Most importantly we develop an integrated package “CompMix” that provides a platform for mixtures analysis where the practitioner can implement a pipeline for several types of mixtures analysis. Our simulation results suggest that the choice of methods depends on the goal of analysis and there is no clear winner across the board. For selection of important toxicants in the mixture and for identifying interactions, Elastic net by Zou et al. (Enet), Lasso for Hierarchical Interactions by Bien et al (HierNet), Selection of nonlinear interactions by a forward stepwise algorithm by Narisetty et al. (SNIF) have the most stable performance across simulation settings. Additionally, the predictive performance of the Super Learner ensembling method by Van de Laan et al. and HierNet are found to be superior to the rest of the methods. For overall summary or a cumulative measure, we find that using the Super Learner to combine multiple Environmental Risk Scores can lead to improved risk stratification properties. We have developed an R package “CompMix: A comprehensive toolkit for environmental mixtures analysis”, allowing users to implement a variety of tasks under different settings and compare the findings. In summary, our study offers guidelines for selecting appropriate statistical methods for addressing specific scientific questions related to mixtures research. We identify critical gaps where new and better methods are needed.

PMID:38496435 | PMC:PMC10942527 | DOI:10.1101/2024.03.03.24303677

March 2024
Efficient Vertical Structure Correlation and Power Line Inference
Nadine Sarter

Sensors (Basel). 2024 Mar 5;24(5):1686. doi: 10.3390/s24051686.


High-resolution three-dimensional data from sensors such as LiDAR are sufficient to find power line towers and poles but do not reliably map relatively thin power lines. In addition, repeated detections of the same object can lead to confusion while data gaps ignore known obstacles. The slow or failed detection of low-salience vertical obstacles and associated wires is one of today’s leading causes of fatal helicopter accidents. This article presents a method to efficiently correlate vertical structure observations with existing databases and infer the presence of power lines. The method uses a spatial hash key which compares an observed tower location to potential existing tower locations using nested hash tables. When an observed tower is in the vicinity of an existing entry, the method correlates or distinguishes objects based on height and position. When applied to Delaware’s Digital Obstacle File, the average horizontal uncertainty decreased from 206 to 56 ft. The power line presence is inferred by automatically comparing the proportional spacing, height, and angle of tower sets based on the more accurate database. Over 87% of electrical transmission towers were correctly identified with no false negatives.

PMID:38475222 | PMC:PMC10934037 | DOI:10.3390/s24051686

March 2024
Metal mixtures associate with higher amyotrophic lateral sclerosis risk and mortality independent of genetic risk and correlate to self-reported exposures: a case-control study
Stuart A Batterman

medRxiv [Preprint]. 2024 Feb 28:2024.02.27.24303143. doi: 10.1101/2024.02.27.24303143.


BACKGROUND: The pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) involves both genetic and environmental factors. This study investigates associations between metal measures in plasma and urine, ALS risk and survival, and exposure sources.

METHODS: Participants with and without ALS from Michigan provided plasma and urine samples for metal measurement via inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Odds and hazard ratios for each metal were computed using risk and survival models. Environmental risk scores (ERS) were created to evaluate the association between exposure mixtures and ALS risk and survival and exposure source. ALS (ALS-PGS) and metal (metal-PGS) polygenic risk scores were constructed from an independent genome-wide association study and relevant literature-selected SNPs.

RESULTS: Plasma and urine samples from 454 ALS and 294 control participants were analyzed. Elevated levels of individual metals, including copper, selenium, and zinc, significantly associated with ALS risk and survival. ERS representing metal mixtures strongly associated with ALS risk (plasma, OR=2.95, CI=2.38-3.62, p<0.001; urine, OR=3.10, CI=2.43-3.97, p<0.001) and poorer ALS survival (plasma, HR=1.42, CI=1.24-1.63, p<0.001; urine, HR=1.52, CI=1.31-1.76, p<0.001). Addition of the ALS-PGS or metal-PGS did not alter the significance of metals with ALS risk and survival. Occupations with high potential of metal exposure associated with elevated ERS. Additionally, occupational and non-occupational metal exposures associated with measured plasma and urine metals.

CONCLUSION: Metals in plasma and urine associated with increased ALS risk and reduced survival, independent of genetic risk, and correlated with occupational and non-occupational metal exposures. These data underscore the significance of metal exposure in ALS risk and progression.

PMID:38464233 | PMC:PMC10925361 | DOI:10.1101/2024.02.27.24303143

March 2024
Structural racism, air pollution and the association with adverse birth outcomes in the United States: the value of examining intergenerational associations
Marie S O'Neill

Front Epidemiol. 2023 Jun 22;3:1190407. doi: 10.3389/fepid.2023.1190407. eCollection 2023.


Structurally racist policies and practices of the past are likely to be a driving factor in current day differences in exposure to air pollution and may contribute to observed racial and ethnic disparities in adverse birth outcomes in the United States (U.S.). Non-Hispanic Black women in the U.S. experience poorer health outcomes during pregnancy and throughout the life course compared to non-Hispanic White women. This disparity holds even among non-Hispanic Black women with higher socioeconomic status. Reasons for this finding remain unclear, but long-term environmental exposure, either historical exposure or both historical and ongoing exposure, may contribute. Structural racism likely contributes to differences in social and environmental exposures by race in the U.S. context, and these differences can affect health and wellbeing across multiple generations. In this paper, we briefly review current knowledge and recommendations on the study of race and structural racism in environmental epidemiology, specifically focused on air pollution. We describe a conceptual framework and opportunities to use existing historical data from multiple sources to evaluate multi-generational influences of air pollution and structurally racist policies on birth and other relevant health outcomes. Increased analysis of this kind of data is critical for our understanding of structural racism’s impact on multiple factors, including environmental exposures and adverse health outcomes, and identifying how past policies can have enduring legacies in shaping health and well-being in the present day. The intended purpose of this manuscript is to provide an overview of the widespread reach of structural racism, its potential association with health disparities and a comprehensive approach in environmental health research that may be required to study and address these problems in the U.S. The collaborative and methodological approaches we highlight have the potential to identify modifiable factors that can lead to effective interventions for health equity.

PMID:38455927 | PMC:PMC10910959 | DOI:10.3389/fepid.2023.1190407