Campus News

USC Faculty Member Max Aung, PhD, Shares Research Expertise at California Attorney General’s Press Conference

Bokie Muigai December 06, 2023

On October 17, 2023, Max Aung, PhD, assistant professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, was invited to speak at a press conference hosted by California Attorney General Rob Bonta. Bonta warned companies of their responsibility to disclose the presence of dangerous PFAS under Assembly Bill 1200 (AB 1200). “The role of an environmental health researcher in the policy space is to strengthen the evidence base with studies,” advises Aung who is an environmental epidemiologist.

“As an environmental health researcher, I conduct biomedical research to better understand the health risks associated with widespread environmental contamination,” explained Aung during the event. “Through ongoing and extensive outreach with local, statewide and national stakeholders we’ve been learning about increasing concerns from the community regarding PFAS and health risks.”

The Bill that was approved in 2021 and went into effect on January 1, 2023, would prohibit “any person from distributing, selling, or offering for sale in the state any food packaging that contains regulated perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS, as defined.”

Aung has been investigating the effects of PFAS on human health with Lida Chatzi, MD, PhD, professor of population and public health sciences. In addition to other investigations , they are currently conducting an exposure assessment study which aims to assess PFAS contamination in environmental samples in LA communities. “We know from the science that PFAS are extremely resistant to breakdown, they can last in the environment and humans for several months to years. This is particularly concerning because they can elicit toxic effects to several organ systems including the liver, the immune system, and the nervous system,” expressed Aung.

“As public health researchers, it is our duty to address these realized public concerns and conduct studies to better inform insight about PFAS exposure and associated health risks,” shared Aung. He highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of his research, requiring the efforts of various disciplines and sectors to investigate the widespread impact of PFAS in communities. This includes community leaders, physicians, engineers, and nonprofit organizations, all working together to understand the extent of PFAS contamination. “It’s great that we are not just talking about this important issue in isolation, in academia—we actually have people in office inquiring about the science and taking into consideration our findings to guide policies being put in place,” he reflects. Aung, Chatzi, and their colleagues have also engaged the Natural Resources Defense Council and California Environmental Protection Agency: CalEPA to advance knowledge in this space, highlighting the importance of multi-sector relationship building in research.

This month, Aung has been featured as a 2023 Grantee Highlight by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). Stories feature investigators who are working to address environmental public health issues and health disparities, and promote environmental justice.