Tony Ward is an Associate Professor at the University of Montana. He has both a B.S. (Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas) and M.S. (The University of Houston – Clear Lake, Houston, Texas) in Environmental Science, and received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Montana in 2001. In addition to conducting research within the Center for Environmental Health Sciences (CEHS), he is Vice-Chair of the University of Montana’s School of Public and Community Health Sciences, and is an adjunct faculty with the University of Montana’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
Research in our laboratory focuses on investigating indoor and ambient inhalational exposures (including emissions from wood stoves and smoke from forest fires) common to residents of rural and underserved areas of the northern Rockies and Alaska. In addition to the Clean Air and Healthy Homes Program (CAHHP), another focus of our research is understanding the potential for inhalational exposures when disturbing asbestos contaminated trees near Libby, Montana.Specific Research AreasResidential Wood Smoke Interventions Improving Health in Native American Populations. NIEHS, R01 (1R01ES022583), Curtis Noonan, Annie Belcourt and Tony Ward (co-PIs), 6/9/14-2/28/19.Lung function is an important determinant of long-term health, and exposure to particular matter is known to adversely impact lung function. This study will test community-based exposure reduction strategies in tribal households that use wood stoves for home heating and evaluate the corresponding impact on respiratory function among elderly residents.A critical need exists for efficient community-based interventions aimed at reduction of environmental exposures relevant to health. Biomass smoke exposures due to residential wood heating are common among rural Native American communities, and such exposures have been associated with respiratory disease in susceptible populations. In many of these communities, wood stoves are the most economic and traditionally preferred method of residential heating, but resource scarcity can result in burning of improper wood fuels and corresponding high levels of indoor particulate matter. In response to the funding announcement “Interventions for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Native American Populations” (PAR-11-346), the team will initiate a two-level intervention strategy to reduce exposure to indoor biomass smoke among elderly tribal members in two reservation communities.Community-based participatory research techniques will be used to adapt intervention approaches to meet the cultural context of each participating community. At the community level, the project will facilitate local development of a tribal agency-led wood bank/delivery program ensuring that elderly and/or persons with need have access to dry wood for heating. At the household level, the team will use a randomized placebo-controlled intervention trial to test education intervention strategies to promote best burn practices. The educational intervention will be evaluated against an indoor air filtration unit arm and a placebo arm. Outcomes will be evaluated with respect to changes in pulmonary function measures and respiratory symptoms and conditions among household elders. This study will advance knowledge of cost-effective environmental interventions within two unique Native American communities, and inform sustainable multi-level strategies in similar communities throughout the US to improve respiratory health among at-risk populations.Wood Stove Interventions and Child Respiratory Infections in Rural Communities.NIEHS, R01 (1R01ES022649), Tony Ward and Curtis Noonan (co-PIs), 6/19/14-3/31/19. Lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis are important causes of morbidity among children, and exposure to biomass smoke puts children at greater risk of LRTI. Testing cost-effective, sustainable strategies for reducing in-home biomass smoke exposures, and decreasing risk of childhood LRTI, will guide intervention approaches in underserved rural and Native American/Alaska Native communities.Acute LRTIs account for more than 27% of all hospitalizations among US children under five years of age, and recurrent LRTIs in children are a recognized risk factor for asthma. Within rural areas of Montana, Alaska, and the Southwest US, research has shown that residential biomass combustion leads to elevated indoor levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that often exceed current health-based air quality standards. Parallel findings have been observed in several developing countries where biomass combustion is commonly used for cooking and/or heating. This is concerning, as PM2.5 exposure is associated with many adverse health outcomes, including a greater than three-fold increased risk of LRTIs. Currently, there is a global effort to reduce indoor biomass smoke exposures in developing countries through the introduction of improved cookstove technology. Similar evidence-based efforts are warranted in rural and Native American communities in the US that suffer from elevated rates of childhood LRTI and commonly use wood for residential heating. To date, exposure reduction strategies in wood stove homes have been either inconsistently effective or include factors that limit widespread dissemination and continued compliance in rural and economically disadvantaged populations.This proposed project will focus on three unique and underserved study areas that have demonstrated associations between wood smoke exposure and LRTI among children. Within (1) rural mountain valley communities in western Montana, (2) the southwest US, and (3) rural Alaska communities, our team will test the efficacy of two intervention strategies for reducing indoor wood smoke PM2.5 exposures and children’s risk of LRTI. Specifically our team will conduct a three-arm randomized placebo-controlled post-only intervention trial in wood stove homes with children less than five years old. Education on best-burn practices and training on the use of simple instruments will be introduced as one intervention arm. This intervention will be evaluated against an indoor air filtration arm and a placebo arm. The primary outcome will be reduced LRTI incidence among children under five years of age.Training Rural / Underserved Youth to Understand and Pursue Scientific Careers.NIH SEPA, 1R25OD010511-01A1, Andrij Holian and Tony Ward (co-PIs), 6/01/12 – 5/31/17.Students living in rural and frontier areas are oftentimes at a disadvantage, in that they do not always have easy access to hands-on educational programs that might stimulate their interest in the sciences. Our inquiry-based science education program trains students in the scientific process based on real-world air pollution issues, giving them the tools necessary to conduct hands-on research. Based on our successful “Air Toxics Under the Big Sky” program, one of four sub-projects in our original SEPA, we have developed the Clean Air and Healthy Homes Program (CAHHP). Through three Aims, we are testing the overall hypothesis that CAHHP can be used in rural, underserved areas to effectively educate students in the scientific process, raise their interest in science and science careers, and increase their awareness of environmental impacts on human health. We are testing this hypothesis with the following Aims: 1) Develop an inquiry-based, student directed, learner centered program (CAHHP) that will allow students to test relevant real-world questions in science; 2) Implement CAAHP into rural, underserved areas of Montana, Idaho, and Alaska in collaboration with our regional partners; and 3) Establish a professional development program for teachers interested in environmental health sciences. Our over-arching goal is to provide educational opportunities to nearly 4,300 students from 51 schools located within rural and underserved areas of the northern Rocky Mountains, and within remote Alaska Native Villages. Additional information about CAHHP can be found here: https://education.cehs.health.umt.edu/content/cahhp-overview.Selected Completed Research SupportIndoor Wood Smoke PM and Asthma: A Randomized Trial.NIEHS, R01, 1R01ES016336, Tony Ward and Curtis Noonan (co-PIs), 3/1/08 – 1/31/15.This study focused on indoor air quality and clinically relevant changes in health effects among asthmatics living in homes whose primary heating sources are non EPA-certified woodstoves. The Primary Aim of this study was to assess the efficacy of residential interventions to reduce indoor PM exposure from wood stoves and the corresponding improvements in quality of life and health outcomes for asthmatic children.Air Pollution Outreach, Education, and Research Capacity Building in Alaska Native Villages.NIEHS, RC1 Challenge Grant, 1RC1ES018400, Tony Ward (PI), 9/26/09 – 6/30/12.In addition to implementing the Air Toxics Under the North Star program within schools in rural Alaska Native Villages, this project identified and assessed sources of air pollution (PM2.5) and rates of respiratory diseases in children within multiple communities.PM2.5 Source Apportionment.Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.Tony Ward (PI).Using a Chemical Mass Balance (CMB) model, our laboratory has conducted PM2.5 source apportionment projects to determine the ambient sources of PM2.5 within regional airsheds. Specifically, PM2.5 source apportionment projects have been conducted in several areas within Montana (including Missoula, Hamilton, Belgrade, Butte, Helena, Libby, and Kalispell), and Fairbanks, Alaska.Asbestos in Tree Bark ProjectsOur laboratory is also investigating the capacity of trees to serve as reservoirs for asbestos fibers, and the implications of disturbing asbestos-contaminated trees. Using tree bark, we have identified new sources of asbestos contamination in areas surrounding the historical Libby (Montana) vermiculite mine, in transportation corridors emanating from Libby, and in areas surrounding historical vermiculite processing facilities in Washington, California, and Arizona. We have also conducted a firewood harvesting simulation to determine the potential for exposure when harvesting contaminated firewood, and conducted a combustion study to determine the fate of Libby amphibole fibers when combusting contaminated wood during residential home heating.Asbestos Fiber ElutriationUsing an aqueous elutriation system developed by our collaborator Dr. James Webber (formerly Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health), we can separate the respirable fraction of Libby asbestos fibers from an initial complex mixture containing larger, non-respirable fibers (Libby “6-Mix”). Through this process, respirable fibers are recovered while discarding the larger fibers. These respirable fibers are then used for health studies at the University of Montana.
Pollen Reporting Station
The Ward lab manages the only certified pollen count station in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Using a Burkard 7 day pollen and spore sampler, sampling is conducted every day from March through October. The counts are reported to the National Allergy Bureau three times per week, and displayed on their website. Results are also provided to local allergists, KPAX (Missoula CBS affiliate), ABC and Fox affiliates, the National Allergy Bureau, Pollen.com, and the Weather Channel for weekly pollen reports. Emily Weiler is the current certified pollen counter for the Missoula station.
Ward T, Lange T. The impact of wood smoke on ambient PM2.5 in northern Rocky Mountain valley communities. Environ Pollut. 2010 Mar;158(3):723-9. Epub 2009 Nov 7.
Ward, T. J., Palmer, C. P., and Noonan, C. W., 2010, PM2.5 source apportionment following a large woodstove changeout program in Libby, Montana. Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association, 60: 688-693.
Ward, T.J., Boulafentis, J., Simpson, J., Hester, C., Moliga, T., Warden, K., and Noonan, C.W., 2011. Results of the Nez Perce woodstove changeout program, Science of the Total Environment, 409, 664-670.
Hart, J.F., Ward, T.J., Spear, T.M., Rossi, R., Holland, N., and Loushin, B., 2011. Evaluating the effectiveness of a commercial portable air purifier in homes with wood burning stoves - a preliminary study. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, Volume 2011, Article ID 324809, 1-7.
Noonan, C.W., Ward, T.J., Navidi, W., and Sheppard, L., 2012. A rural community intervention targeting biomass combustion sources: effects on air quality and reporting of children’s respiratory outcomes. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 69:354-360.
Noonan, C.W., Navidi, W., Sheppard, L., Palmer, C.P., Bergauff, M., Hooper, K., and Ward, T.J., 2012. Residential indoor PM2.5 in wood stove homes: follow-up of the Libby changeout program. Indoor Air, DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0668.2012.00790.x NIHMSID: 380310.
Ward, T.J., Spear, T., Hart, J., Noonan, C., Holian, A., Getman, M., and Webber, J.S., 2006. Amphibole fibers in tree bark, Science of the Total Environment, 367:1, 460-465.
Hart, J.F., Ward, T.J., Spear, T.M., Crispen, K., and Zolnikov, T.R., 2007. Evaluation of asbestos exposures during firewood harvesting simulations in Libby, Montana, Annals of Occupational Hygiene, 51, 8: 1-7.
Ward, T.J., Hart, J.F., Spear, T.M., Meyer, B.J., and Webber, J.S., 2009. Fate of Libby amphibole fibers when burning contaminated firewood, Environmental Science & Technology, 43(8) 2878–2883. PMCID: PMC2688714.
Ward, T.J., Spear, T.M., Hart, J.F., Webber, J.S., and Elashheb, M.I., 2012. Amphibole asbestos in tree bark – a review of findings for this inhalational exposure source in Libby, Montana. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Hygiene, 9: 387–397.
Jones, D., Ward, T., Vanek, D., Marra, N., Noonan, C., Smith, G., Adams, A. 2007. Air Toxics Under The Big Sky -- A high school science teaching tool. Science Education & Civic Engagement: An International Journal 1(2): 51-55.
Ward, T.J., Vanek, D., Marra, N., Holian, A., Adams, E., Jones, D., and Knuth R. 2008. The Big Sky Model: A regional collaboration for participatory research on environmental health in the rural West. Journal of Higher Education Outreach & Engagement. Vol 12(3): 103-115. NIHMS168296.
Adams, E., Ward, T.J., Vanek, D., Marra, N., Hester, C., Knuth, R., Spangler, T., Jones, D., Henthorn, M., Hammill, B., Smith, P., Salisbury, R., Reckin, G., and Boulafentis, J., 2009. The Big Sky Inside: Measuring rural indoor air quality and its impact on the community, The Science Teacher, April/May, 40-45. NIHMSID: 140777.
Marra, N., Vanek, D., Hester,C., Holian, A., Ward, T., Adams, E., Knuth, R., 2011. Evolution of the Air Toxics Under the Big Sky program, Journal of Chemical Education, 88(4):397–401.
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