Semester of Graduation

Summer 2023


Comparative Biomedical Sciences

Document Type



Particulate matter (PM) pollution is highly correlated with respiratory and cardiovascular disease incidence. The generation of oxidative stress is a major way by which PM can damage the body. Environmentally persistent free radical-containing PM are generated by combustion processes and are capable of exerting increased damage on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems due to their ability to remain stable and regenerate reactive oxygen species for up to five years. Clean Harbors, LLC operates a thermal treatment plant near the city of Colfax, LA in Central Louisiana. Its regular open burning of explosives causes disturbances to the community, such as loud noise and consistent smoke plumes. We hypothesized that high pollutant levels in the area increased the disease burden of Colfax compared to surrounding areas. Analysis of hospitalization and mortality data from 2000-2017 revealed a higher burden of cardiovascular and respiratory disease in Colfax compared to the rates of the rest of Grant Parish and the state as a whole. We found particularly high rates of hospitalization for hypertension and asthma, and high rates of mortality for hypertension and ischemia. In addition, hospitalization rates for Colfax residents listed as Black on hospitalization data were three times higher than for Black residents elsewhere in Grant Parish. We also found a higher hospitalization rate for both cardiovascular and respiratory disease among residents who lived 5-10km from the burn site than those who lived 10-15km away from the burn site. Despite the small sample size of the population, we describe a clear trend of increased hospitalization and mortality in Colfax not present in surrounding areas; these increased rates are consistent with health effects reported due to long-term exposure to particulate matter pollution. This suggests a need for comprehensive exposure studies within the community to identify the constituents responsible for the adverse health effect. In addition, our study highlights the critical need to develop statistical approaches to describe epidemiology in small-scale rural settings.



Committee Chair

Cormier, Stephania

Available for download on Saturday, July 11, 2026