By Matthew Keck–

On Oct. 14 the University of Louisville’s Green Heart Project started planting 8,000 trees in South Louisville to study effects of plants on human health. This is one of the largest tree and shrub planting projects in U.S. history.

“This is a Green Heart Project and in this project we are trying to study what effect vegetation and trees might have on the health of a community,” said Aruni Bhatnagar, director of the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute at U of L. “Our primary objective is to understand how increasing greeness effects the risk of heart disease in the community.”

The Nature Conservancy is responsible for providing the approximately 8,000 trees being planted. Researchers from U of L’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute are collecting data for two years and seeing how it affects the health of those in these neighborhoods.

Health, Environment and Action in Louisville (HEAL) researchers have obtained health information from about 700 residents in these areas. Areas included in the project are: Taylor-Berry, Jacobs, Hazelwood, Oakdale, Wilder Park and Beechmont neighborhoods. Information such as blood pressure, cholesterol, heart health and other health indicators were collected for the study.

Dr. Rachel Keith, assistant professor of medicine, said they did baseline health checks so they can bring people back after the planting is completed to see the effects it has on their health.

Air monitors will be attached to 60 telephones as part of the study as well. “We want to see, as we put trees in these areas, what effect that has on the pollution levels,” said Rick Strehl, field data technician at U of L. Strehl also said that no one else has done a study like this yet to prove this relationship between health and greenness in neighborhoods.

Along with The Nature Conservancy and Envirome Institute, the National Institutes of Health is providing funding for this project. Metro Louisville, Louisville Grows, Washington University in St. Louis, Hyphae Design Laboratory and the U.S. Forest Service are all partners of the program as well.

The total cost of the project is more than $15 million and will last five years. The neighborhoods being used in this study are not responsible for paying for the trees being planted.

“This project is a magnificent example of healing our community from the roots up,” said Christina Lee Brown, benefactor of the Envirome Institute. “Planting those trees is a symbol of a tremendous amount of caring that we are beginning to have for human health.”

Photo Courtesy of the University of Louisville