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Brian Schwartz, MD, MS, GME ’90, uses environmental epidemiology to evaluate the drivers of sustainability health impacts, such as energy, agriculture, and built environments.

Contact Info

615 North Wolfe Street, W7041

Research Interests

Environmental health sciences; biologic markers; cognitive functioning; gene-environment interaction; genetic susceptibility; lead intoxication; molecular epidemiology; neurobehavioral testing; occupational epidemiology; occupational safety and health; retrospective assessment of exposure; solvents; chemicals; global warming; global environmental change; the built environment; unconventional fossil fuels; fracking; environmental epidemiology
Experiences & Accomplishments
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Northwestern University
A large part of my research applies the methods of occupational, environmental, and molecular epidemiology to studying the health effects of chemicals. Health effects of interest include those in the central nervous (e.g., cognitive function, brain structure), peripheral nervous, cardiovascular, and renal systems. My research has focused on the health effects of metals (e.g., organic lead, inorganic lead, mercury, cadmium) and various organic compounds (e.g., polychlorinated biphenyls, hydrocarbon solvents).  We are particularly interested in the importance of recent vs. lifetime cumulative dose, the timing of the dose during the lifespan and its relation to health effects, how these each contribute to acute, reversible health effects and chronic, likely irreversible health effects, and how chemicals interact with aging to influence health across the lifespan. The studies are also evaluating whether genetic polymorphisms interact with chemical exposures to modify disease risk, an evaluation of gene-environment interaction. We have used several biologic markers of chemical dose in studying health effects, including some health outcomes never before studied in relation to chemicals.  We have recently found that cumulative lead dose, measuring lead concentration in bone with X-ray fluorescence, is associated with persistent structural lesions in the brain (i.e., smaller volumes of brain structures and increased prevalence and severity of white matter lesions), and these, in turn, are associated with progressive declines in cognitive function as people age. 
I have become increasingly interested in the issue of global environmental sustainability, and how land use and energy use are contributing to global climate change, ecosystem degradation, and biodiversity and species losses, and ultimately, posing important risks to individual and population health.  Much of this research is part of my work as Director of the Environmental Health Institute at the Geisinger Center for Health Research in Danville, PA. There we have ongoing or developing studies of the built environment and obesity, with particular emphasis on the land use, local food, local physical activity, and social environments; the public health impacts of Marcellus shale development in Pennsylvania; the community health effects of animal feeding operations, including the risk of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA); the built environment, abandoned coal mine lands, and diabetes mellitus progression; the contribution of abandoned mine lands to community health and contextual effects; and evaluating the public health risks of energy scarcity and changing energy choices.  As the co-director of the Program on Global Sustainability and Health, we are developing courses and research related to these areas.
Honors & Awards
Phi Beta Kappa, Tufts University, 1979; Summa Cum Laude, Tufts University, 1979; Durkee Scholarship for outstanding research by an undergraduate, Tufts University, 1979; Mellon Foundation Scholarship, University of Pennsylvania, 1987-1989; Recipient, Occupational Physicians Scholarship Fund Award, 1989; Fellow, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 1994; Advising, Mentoring, and Teaching Recognition Award, Johns Hopkins BSPH, 2002; Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching, Johns Hopkins BSPH, 2010
Select Publications
These publications were selected to show the range of topics of recent work published in 2018 to 2020.
  • McAlexander TP, Bandeen-Roche K, Buckley JP, Pollak J, Michos ED, McEvoy JW, Schwartz BS. Unconventional natural gas development and hospitalization for heart failure in Pennsylvania. J Am College Cardiol 2020; 76: 2862-74.
  • Kuiper JR, Hirsch AG, Bandeen-Roche K, Sundaresan AS, Tan BK, Kern RC, Schleimer RP, Schwartz BS. Workplace indirect cost impacts of nasal and sinus symptoms and related diagnoses. J Occup Environ Med 2019; 61: e333-e339.
  • Poulsen MN, Pollak J, Sills DL, Casey JA, Nachman KE, Cosgrove SE, Stewart D, Schwartz BS. High-density poultry operations and community-acquired pneumonia in Pennsylvania. Environ Epidemiol 2018; 2: e013, 1-7.
  • Hirsch AG, Durden TE, Nordberg C, Berger A, Schwartz BS. Associations of four community factors with longitudinal change in hemoglobin A1c levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 2018; 41: 461-8.
  • Poulsen MN, Knapp EA, Hirsch AG, Bailey-Davis L, Pollak J, Schwartz BS. Comparing objective measures of the built environment in their associations with youth physical activity and sedentary behavior across heterogeneous geographies. Health and Place 2018; 49: 30-38.
Environmental And Genetic Risk Factors For Renal Function Decline