Research Papers: Jill Johnston

The disappearing Salton Sea: A critical reflection on the emerging environmental threat of disappearing saline lakes and potential impacts on children’s health.

By Jill E. Johnston, Mitiasoa Razafy, Humberto Lugo, Luis Olmedo, Shohreh F. Farzan

Science of the Total Environment


Changing weather patterns, droughts and competing water demands are dramatically altering the landscape and creating conditions conducive to the production of wind-blown dust and dust storms. In California, such factors are leading to the rapid shrinking of the Salton Sea, a 345 mile2 land-locked “sea” situated near the southeastern rural border region known as the Imperial Valley. The region is anticipated to experience a dramatic increase in wind-blown dust and existing studies suggest a significant impact on the health and quality of life for nearby residents of this predominantly low-income, Mexican-American community. The discussion calls attention to the public health dimensions of the Salton Sea crisis. We know little about the possible long-term health effects of exposure to mobilized lakebed sediments or the numerous toxic contaminants that may become respirable on entrained particles. We draw on existing epidemiological literature of other known sources of wind-blown dust, such as desert dust storms, and related health effects to begin to understand the potential public health impact of wind-blown dust exposure. The increased production of wind-blown dust and environmental exposures to such non-combustion related sources of particulate matter are a growing health threat, due in part to drought coupled with increasing pressures on limited water resources. Recent population-based studies have linked dust storms with cardiovascular mortality, asthma hospitalization and decrease in pulmonary function in both adults and children. A growing number of studies provide evidence of the acute health effects of wind-blown dust exposures among children, which with repeated insults have the potential to influence respiratory health over time. The shrinking of the Salton Sea illustrates a public health and environmental justice crisis that requires action and attention to protect the health and well-being of local communities.

Impact of upstream oil extraction and environmental public health: A review of the evidence

By Jill E. Johnston, Esther Lim, Hannah Roh

Science of the Total Environment


Upstream oil extraction, which includes exploration and operation to bring crude oil to the surface, frequently occurs near human populations. There are approximately 40,000 oil fields globally and 6 million people that live or work nearby. Oil extraction can impact local soil, water, and air, which in turn can influence community health. As oil resources are increasingly being extracted near human populations, we highlight the current scope of scientific knowledge regarding potential community health impacts with the aim to help identify scientific gaps and inform policy discussions surrounding oil drilling operations. In this review, we assess the wide range of both direct and indirect impacts that oil drilling operations can have on human health, with specific emphasis on understanding the body of scientific literature to assess potential environmental and health risks to residents living near active onshore oil extraction sites. From an initial literature search capturing 2236 studies, we identified 22 human studies, including 5 occupational studies, 5 animal studies, 6 experimental studies and 31 oil drilling-related exposure studies relevant to the scope of this review. The current evidence suggests potential health impacts due to exposure to upstream oil extraction, such as cancer, liver damage, immunodeficiency, and neurological symptoms. Adverse impacts to soil, air, and water quality in oil drilling regions were also identified. Improved characterization of exposures by community health studies and further study of the chemical mixtures associated with oil extraction will be critical to determining the full range of health risks to communities living near oil extraction.

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