Faculty Biography

Timothy J. Downs

Timothy J. Downs, D. Env.

Associate Professor of Environmental Science & Policy
Department of International Development, Community, and Environment
Clark University
Worcester, MA 01610-1477

Phone: (508) 421-3814
Email: tdowns@clarku.edu


B.Sc. (Civil Engineering) , Loughborough University, UK, 1984
M.S. (Ocean Engineering), University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, 1990
D.Env. (Doctor of Environmental Science & Engineering), University of California, Los Angeles, 1998

Research Interests

Social and technical health-system innovation (community-centered), participatory local/regional sustainable development & capacity building, environmental & social justice, risk & vulnerability assessment, impacts of rapid urbanization, watershed stewardship, Latin American Region and rapidly industrializing countries.


Tim Downs is a specialist in environmental science and engineering with over 25 years field experience designing and managing collaborative projects in the UK, the United States, Latin America and Africa. His research focus is on how humans change the environment, and how those changes impact their health, wellbeing, and the ecosystems they inhabit. He works with diverse social actors to innovate through collaboration, both socially via new networks, and technically via new applications of science and technology.  Downs applies risk and vulnerability science to identify priority problems with stakeholders, GIS and analytics to understand existing social and technical systems, then innovation theory and capacity building practice to design, implement and monitor more sustainable solutions. In a variety of settings—New England, Mexico, East and West Africa—he works with affected communities, NGOs, governmental agencies, public sector providers, the private sector and donors, applying multi-stakeholder, interdisciplinary approaches within and across multiple sectors: health, energy, water supply & sanitation, food & agriculture, land-use, transportation, urban planning, climate-change adaptation & mitigation, biodiversity conservation & ecosystem stewardship.

Teaching Approach

Teaching and research can be creatively combined. As an example of team projects in the classroom, in Spring 2018 Prof. Downs led a Team Practicum with 15 students in his Sustainable Development Assessment & Planning class (IDCE332/EN242) called: “Re-imagining Puerto Rico Post-Hurricane Reconstruction and Sustainable Development as a Socio-Technical Enterprise”. Students worked in five sector teams, and linked efforts to produce work of publishable quality, enhancing their team research skills and their ability to design and execute integrated projects that can have a significant impact on development practice.

Awards/Grants/Research Projects

Since 2015, Downs has been collaborating with colleagues at Boston University and local residents to explore the vulnerability of the shallow aquifer system in Holliston, Mass. to contamination by natural Manganese and industrial chemicals. They are also looking into potential health risks to young children that may be the result of early life-stage exposures (including in-utero), compiling an online community health atlas with GIS, and considering ways to improve water supply and waste management.

His latest paper on drinking water and environmental health, in partnership with affected communities, and co-authored with 9 IDCE students as a team project, is called: "Integrated Assessment of Shallow-Aquifer Vulnerability to Multiple Contaminants and Drinking-Water Exposure Pathways in Holliston, Massachusetts". It was published 2018 in open-access journal Water and is available online at: http://www.mdpi.com/2073-4441/10/1/23/html

Downs was a Co-Investigator with UMass Medical School on the Phase 1 (2008-2012) National Children's Study (NCS) project for Worcester County, funded by the National Institutes of Health. The project will follow 1000 children from pre-birth to age 21.  NCS’s goal was to determine how environmental and genetic factors impact children's health and development. It is the most ambitious research program about the environment and children's health ever undertaken, encompassing 100,000 children in 100 counties nationwide.

Selected Publications

Downs recently published work on integrated approaches to sustainable development, including a fresh look at Mexico City where he worked 20 years ago on foundational work in this arena.

  • Downs T.J., Carr E., Goble R. (2017). “Addressing Risk Conundrums in Sustainable Development”. In: Risk Conundrums: Solving Unsolvable Problems. Kasperson, R. (Editor). Earthscan. 12/2017.
  • Downs T.J. and Mazari-Hiriart M. (2017). “Addressing Risk Conundrums in Megacity Development: Mexico City”. In: Risk Conundrums: Solving Unsolvable Problems. Kasperson, R. (Editor). Earthscan. 12/2017.
  • Downs, T.J. and Golovko N. (2016). “Integrative education for climate-change resilience x sustainable development transformations”. Int. J. Global Warming. Special Issue on Climate Literacy and Innovations in Climate Change Education.

He also works closely with IDCE colleagues to apply critical, engaged and integrative approaches to the design of the Environmental Science & Policy Program at Clark:

  • Downs T.J., Carr E. and Goble R. (2017). Re-imagining environmental science and policy graduate education for the twenty-first century using an integrative frame. J Environ Stud Sci. DOI 10.1007/s13412-017-0423-z.

A sampling of his earlier work appears below:

  • Downs T.J., Ross L, Goble R, Subedi R, Greenberg S, and Taylor O (2010). “Vulnerability, risk perception and health profile of marginalized people exposed to multiple built-environment stressors in Worcester, Massachusetts: A pilot project”. Risk Analysis. DOI: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2010.01548.x
  • Downs T.J., Ross L., Mucciarone D., Calvache M.C., Taylor O. and Goble R. (2010). “Participatory Testing and Reporting of Household and Outdoor Environments in an Environmental-Justice Community of Worcester, Massachusetts: A Pilot Project”. Environmental Health. 9(34) doi:10,1186/1476-069X-9-34.
  • Downs T.J., Ogneva-Himmelberger Y., Aupont O., Wang Y., Raj A., et al. (2010). Vulnerability-based Spatial Sampling Stratification for the National Children’s Study-Worcester County, Massachusetts: Capturing Environmental and Socio-Demographic Variability. Environmental Health Perspectives 118 (9): 1318-1325.doi:10.1289/ehp.0901315
  • Downs TJ, Ross L, Patton S, Rulnick S, Sinha D, Mucciarone D, Calvache M, Parmenter S, Subedi R, Wysokenski D, Anderson E, Dezan R, Lowe K, Bowen J, Tejani A, Taylor O, Piersanti K, Goble R. (2009). “Complexities of holistic community based participatory research for a low-income, multi-ethnic population exposed to multiple built-environment stressors in Worcester, Massachusetts”. Environmental Research 109 (2009), pp. 1028-1040 DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2009.08.005.
  • Wandiga S.O., Opondo M., Olago D., Githeko A., Githui F., Marshall M., Downs T.. et al., (2009). “Vulnerability to epidemic malaria in the highlands of Lake Victoria basin: the role of climate change/variability, hydrology, health and socio-economic factors”. Climatic Change. October 2009. 0165-0009 (Print) 1573-1480 (Online).DOI 10.1007/s10584-009-9670-7.
  • Downs T.J. (2007). “A systematic integrated approach for crafting poverty reduction and sustainable development projects Natural Resources Forum –United Nations Sustainable Development Journal; 31(2007):35-50.
  • Downs T.J. and Larson H.J. (2007). “Achieving Millennium Development Goals for health: Building understanding, trust and capacity to respond”. Health Policy. 83(2-3): 144-161.
  • Downs T.J. and Ambrose R.F. (2001).  “Syntropic ecotoxicology: A heuristic model for understanding the vulnerability of ecological systems to stress”.  J. Ecosystem Health 7(4): 266-283.
  • Downs T.J. and Santos-Burgoa C. (2000). "Selecting high priority hazardous chemicals for tri-national control: A maximum utility method applied to Mexico". Int. J. Occupat. and Environ. Hlth. 6(3): 220-237.
  • Downs T.J., Mazari-Hiriart M., Domínguez-Mora R. and Suffet I.H. (2000). "Sustainability of least cost policies to meet Mexico City’s future water demand”. Water Resources Research 36(8): 2321-2339.
  • Downs T.J., Cifuentes E., Ruth E. and Suffet I.H. (2000) "Effectiveness of natural treatment in a wastewater irrigation district of the Mexico City region". Water Environment Research 72(1): 4-21.
  • Downs T.J., Cifuentes E. and Suffet I.H. (1999). "Risk screening for human exposure to groundwater pollution in a wastewater irrigation district of the Mexico City Region". Environmental Health Perspectives, 107(7): 553-561.