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Lucia Speroni Is Shining a Light on Critical Links Between the Health of Waterways and Humans

How do common items that we use, like pesticides, household chemicals and plastic bags, affect our streams, lakes and other bodies of water? And how does the pollution of waterways connect to our own health?

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Lucia Speroni. Credit: Frost Museum.

These are some of the important questions that Lucia Speroni, a scientist, editor, writer and scientific diver, is exploring. Speroni’s work is centered on connecting the dots to form a comprehensive picture—one that shows a clear link between the health of our planet and that of human beings.

The concept that the environment, land, water and humans are connected rather than separate may seem like basic common sense; but all too often, according to Speroni, it’s forgotten. “Humans are not outside of the environment,” said Speroni.

Speroni started her career as a researcher, illuminating these interconnected relationships. While working at Tufts University, she studied a common chemical found in many plastic products – bisphenol A (BPA) – and if exposure to BPA in utero may increase the risk of developing of breast cancer later in life (the study was conducted on mice).

It was this research that led Speroni to leave the lab and switch careers. When her BPA study garnered headlines and she found herself giving press conferences about her work, she was inspired to do more to share science with the world at large. “I was so impressed by the potential impact of sharing these findings beyond only the traditional audience of peer-reviewed publications,” said Speroni.

Today, Speroni is a science editor at the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine, where she works with researchers to prepare their studies for publication in scientific journals. “I wanted to find a position that connected to science and academia, but that would allow me to work in communication and education,” said Speroni.

Speroni also volunteers with organizations such as Debris Free Oceans, a Miami-based non-profit, and Coral Restoration Foundation. She gives talks to educate the public about ways to reduce plastic pollution and explains the impact certain chemicals can have on people’s health. She serves as a consultant for environmental non-profits, helping with campaigns to reduce single-use plastics and aiding in efforts to shape policy regarding endocrine disruptors regulation. And she dives.

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Lucia Speroni. Credit: Frost Museum.

On a typical weekend, Speroni may get up at 5 a.m. and visit the Coral Restoration Foundation to tend to baby corals in underwater nurseries. “I spend about three hours underwater,” said Speroni.

This interest in water conservation and science began as far back as her childhood, where Speroni spent summers playing in the ocean near her home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. When she was six, she and her classmates went on a school trip to a science center, where a scientist used a microscope and projector to show the microorganisms living in a drop of river water. “I couldn’t believe that such tiny creatures lived in that drop of water,” said Speroni. It was, she recalled, a moment that became imprinted in her mind.

Many years later after completing her degrees at the National University of Quilmes in Argentina and at Tufts University in the U.S., Speroni earned her certification to become a scientific diver in Miami. She learned how to do science underwater, surveying and quantifying phenomena such as how corals grow and tracking their disease outbreak. She also learned about marine conservation.

The work of tackling the massive challenges facing the environment and the health of our planet is not easy, nor does it seem suited for the faint of heart. For instance, Speroni noted that scientists studying the large-scale deaths of coral at places like the Great Barrier Reef have been emotionally impacted by the devastation they’ve witnessed. “These scientists have PTSD,” said Speroni. “Sometimes it can be so depressing and everything can seem beyond salvation.”

While much of the facts about the challenges our planet is facing can be daunting,
Speroni focuses on hope in her presentations. What can we do now? How can we make a difference and shape the future? “When I do community events, I do them with positivity and a message of hope,” said Speroni. “Not everything is lost; there are still actions we can do, like not grabbing plastic bags, utensils or napkins.”

Due to her positivity and leadership, Speroni was recently invited to volunteer as a “AAAS Superhero,” which is a new distinction in the AAAS Community, a forum for AAAS Members and the public that will officially launch in late April. “I look forward to engaging with AAAS Community Members in conversations about environmental health science, and I am excited to explore new scientific findings unveiling the connections of humans with the environment,” said Speroni.

Connect with Speroni at AAAS Member Community and keep an eye out for her posts to learn more about her next projects.

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Katherine Lee