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Zhen Zhang - Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Interviewing a participant in her garden and orchard next to her house.

Career goal: To improve public health by identifying, tracking and addressing environmental risk factors that compromise human health and the environment — both natural and human-made, and in global scope, since environmental problems extend beyond borders.

Internship outline: Zhen worked this summer at the Environmental Health Center in Cluj-Napoca, Romania on a metals exposure assessment project in the communities surrounding the mining areas in the Apușeni Mountains of Transylvania. She worked under the guidance of Dr. Eugen Gurzau, Director of the Center, and in collaboration with the regional Public Health Department, as well as with local family doctors on participant recruitment. Her research was primary focused on spatial distribution and the environment exposure and intake levels of arsenic and cadmium, as well as other metals including lead, mercury, chromium and nickel. Multiple approaches were employed for the assessment, including environmental measurements of metal concentrations in soil, indoor and outdoor dust from participants’ household, biomarkers of urine, fingernails and hair, and indirect evaluation through a questionnaire that collected data on demographics, health behaviors, health histories, occupational and household exposures, exposure risk factors, etc.

Value of experience: It’s been a great opportunity to work side by side with colleagues with expertise from environmental medicine, chemical engineering, environmental engineering, and to integrate across disciplines with an emphasis on assessment of metal exposures and toxicology. I was able to apply concepts and competencies learned in the classroom that are relevant to my interests and area of specialization. My fieldwork allowed me to go inside local houses, interact with residents and familiarize myself with the region so as to better understand their lifestyles. I also gained some knowledge of the health care system and environmental regulations of Romania on a broader scale.

Best moment/experience: I admired the breathtakingly beautiful scenery on our daily drives through the Apușeni Mountains to conduct our fieldwork. The landscapes were exactly like that described in Bram Stoker’s book Dracula, “All day long we seemed to dawdle through a country which was full of beauty of every kind.” One of the most exciting parts of my summer was seeing the beautiful Romanian landscapes and experiencing Romanian culture with the local people.

Funding source: Stolwojk Fellowship