Exposure Science

Photo by Taylor Mackay

Why It Matters  |  What We Are Doing  |  Who Is Involved


Why It Matters

How do pollutants and contaminants cause disease? How could we avert the human toll caused by environmental exposures?  The World Health Organization estimates that as much as 24% of global disease – 33% in children under five – is caused by exposure to environmental contaminants.  Most of these diseases could be averted.  Preventing environmental risk could save as many as four million lives a year, mostly those of children in developing countries.

What We Are Doing

Our faculty are finding new ways to measure and monitor chemical and microbial contaminants in our air, water, homes and workplaces, and assess the risks they pose to human health. Read More

In addition, they have discovered that our DNA is not pristine!  We have many types of damaged DNA that arise from normal cellular metabolism.  This damage also contributes to diseases.  Of considerable interest, many of these DNA lesions are identical to those induced by known human carcinogens.  Therefore, understanding these relationships can greatly aid science-based risk assessment.

From the use of personal products to our consumption of food, water, and air, people are exposed to a wide array of agents each day–many with the potential to affect health.

By focusing on the environmental causes of disease, and how various diseases are influenced by factors in the environment, our faculty are breaking new ground in understanding the interactions between environment and health. Likewise, we can now make much more informed decisions related to risk assessments, so that we do not set regulatory standards that exceed internally generated exposures by many orders of magnitude.

We are measuring chemical and microbial contaminants in water and air in order to understand how dangerous toxicants and virulent microorganisms threaten populations.  We are connecting exposure to chemicals such as arsenic, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene with the development of cancer, and gaining new understanding of the levels of exposure that represent a human health risk. We are also studying the impact of environmental contaminants on future generations, since some environmental toxicants cause irreversible changes in DNA.

Our advance mass spectroscopy laboratory has some of the most sensitive instrumentation in the world. This allows us to measure biomarkers of disease at cellular levels, including measuring exposure to air pollutants, occupational hazards, drinking water disinfectants and chemicals formed within the body.  We are revealing individual and environmental factors that contribute significantly to the risk of disease, so that interventions and policy measure can be initiated to reduce unacceptable levels of risk.

Who Is Involved

Our leaders in exposure science come from across the Gilling School, and include our world-class faculty, staff, post-docs and students. This overview only captures a fraction of the important research, teaching, and public service efforts in exposure science at the Gillings School. Please explore the individual leader descriptions to learn more about their work.