PhD Student, Environmental Health Sciences
Joan Casey’s childhood home in Corvallis, Oregon, was on a hill overlooking a dairy farm. On days when she was pondering adolescent-sized problems—how to master the balance beam, for instance, or convince her parents to let her sleep over at a friend’s—she’d climb a tree and gaze down at that farm while figuring out solutions. These days, as a graduate student in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, farms are central to the issues that Casey ponders. “I think my childhood made it easy for me to make the connection between industrial farming and adverse human health outcomes,” she says.
Industrial farms often lace livestock feed with antibiotics, supposedly to promote growth and reduce infections. Antibiotics that pass through animals’ digestive tracts, along with bacteria that survive exposure to them, ultimately create problems for humans and the environment, Casey says. Here at Johns Hopkins, she’s examining de-identified health records of hundreds of thousands of people to see if the incidence of infections caused by hardy bacteria correlates with patients’ physical proximity to farms. Eventually, her results and the model she’s developing could help change practices at farms throughout the country. “Nature no longer offers respite from issues,” Casey says, “but rather represents an integral part of the problem, process and solution.”