2014 Presentations


Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, National Exposure Research Laboratory, Director



What did “Exposure Science in the 21st Century” have to say about Citizens and Communities?

Paul Gilman, Covanta Energy, Chief Sustainability Officer and Senior Vice President

Much of the focus of the National Research Council’s study was on the emerging opportunities to gather data on exposures for the individual and to do so over all life stages and with an accounting of multiple stressors. The Committee authoring the report realized that these opportunities would also put greater pressure on investigators to attend to the greater ethical and communication obligations that will be demanded of these future exposure studies. At the same time we will be able to focus more clearly on individuals and more susceptible populations, we will be responding to calls for greater protection of privacy, return of data, and engagement of communities in the design and performance of these studies.



Emerging Technology for Exposure Assessment: Development, Validation, and Application

David Balshaw, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Exposure, Response, and Technology Branch, Chief


Biomonitoring of Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals

Kurunthachalam Kannan, Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health, Research Scientist

Biomonitoring is the direct measurement of environmental chemicals, or their products, in human biospecimens such as blood and urine (CDC, 2009). For numerous environmental toxicants, biomonitoring can be used to determine the prevalence of elevated exposure, assess the exposure in at-risk or vulnerable populations, examine the relationship between exposure and health effects, determine trends in exposure, and evaluate the effectiveness of exposure mitigation efforts. The application of biomonitoring in public health has resulted in significant impacts on policy and intervention strategies for environmental contaminants such as mercury, tobacco smoke, and pesticides. However, the laboratory capacity necessary to support these analyses requires expensive instrumentation, highly skilled staff, sophisticated specimen preparation and analytical techniques, specialized data and specimen management systems, and familiarity with human subject research protocols. In this presentation, application of biomonitoring techniques in understanding trends and patterns of exposure to select emerging contaminants by the U.S. population will be discussed. Data generated by biomonitoring techniques to assess exposure doses will be compared with exposures doses calculated by direct measurement of toxicants in foodstuffs, indoor air, indoor dust and personal care products.


Novel Devices for Personal Exposure Assessment

Jonathan Thornburg, RTI International, Exposure and Aerosol Technology, Director

Inhalation exposure measurements at the personal level in a very low-burden package that can be worn by individuals can significantly enhance studies of public and occupational health. The National Research Council (NRC, 2004) strongly supports the application of personal exposure monitors to characterize inhalation exposure levels and patterns for correlation with acute- and chronic-scale health effects. But personal exposure sampling can be burdensome, and periods when the monitor is not worn according to protocol must be identified to maximize data representativeness (Rodes et al., 2010). The MicroPEM is designed to minimize the majority of key aspects of exposure misclassification bias, thereby meeting NRC goals. The MicroPEM provides fully representative personal exposure characterizations simultaneously defining both the integrated exposure (filter based) as well as the patterns of exposure using a nephelometer to provide real-time concentration data. The wearable low burden package weighs less than 240 grams and is very quiet at 3 decibels above background. Selectable U. S. EPA PM2.5 or PM10 cut-points relate the collected data to targeted respiratory system deposition zones (deep lung or thoracic, respectively), allowing health-based associations to be studied against adverse disease outcomes. On board collection of quality control data and accelerometer motion levels allows straightforward validation of both wearing compliance for the collected data, as well as enable estimates of ventilation and potential inhaled dose following the methodology of Rodes et al. (2012).



A Statistician’s View of Data Integration: Opportunities and Cautions

Alan Karr, RTI International, Center of Excellence for Complex Data Analysis, Director

For more than 20 years there has been scientific and statistical controversy regarding the acute and chronic health effects of exposure to small particulates (PM2.5). Multiple statistical analyses have produced contradictory results. The political ramifications have even included Congressional committees’ attempts to forbid the EPA to base regulations on data that have not been released publically.

From a statistical perspective, previous studies have been hampered by use of incomplete, and to some extent surrogate, exposure data. For instance, all individuals in an area are assumed to have the same exposure, as measured by a stationary monitor. I will describe a scenario under which data from multiple sources would be integrated with the goal of producing credible, useful estimates of individual-level exposure. These data sources include stationary monitors, personal monitors, social media and travel surveys. They differ significantly in terms of scale, coverage and quality. Both the potential and the challenges of such data integration will be highlighted.


Using Big Data to Inform Decision-making: An illustration using the EnviroAtlas and Community-FERST tools

Anne Neale, US Environmental Protection Agency, EnviroAtlas Project Lead
James Quackenboss, US Environmental Protection Agency, C-FERST Project Lead

With recent and continually expanding advances in technology, our ability to create and provide access to huge volumes of data has become tenable. At the same time, the world is facing a growing set of environmental and human health challenges, which has resulted in an almost urgent need for better environmental and human health data to help inform decision-making at all levels of governance. Historically, data collection efforts have been conducted in isolation of each other, resulting in data that are difficult to find, access, and use. Recent advances in technology have provided the foundation to change this paradigm; newly developed tools now give us the ability to leverage data stored in multiple locations and to present these data as useful information that can be interpreted by a wide range of users.

This short presentation will describe two EPA tools, EnviroAtlas and Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool (C-FERST), which take existing data from disparate sources and through research, turns them into useful information. EnviroAtlas combines maps, analysis tools, fact sheets, and downloadable data into a web-based resource that allows users to understand the implications of various decisions and their potential impacts on ecosystems and the services they provide, including linkages to human health. C-FERST provides communities with access to information about environmental issues, maps of environmental and other data, summaries of their environmental and demographic information in comparison to larger areas, and guidance for screening-level environmental health assessments. C-FERST is designed to help communities find out more about environmental and public health issues, assess exposures and risks, and identify solutions used by other communities. These two tools can leverage data between each other and can help inform policy and planning decisions that impact the places where people live, learn, work and play.


Exposure Science and Amazon Web Services

Traci Ruthkoski, Amazon Web Services, Scientific and Research Computing

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has become the technology platform of choice for a variety of large-scale scientific projects, including the NASA Mars Curiosity mission. The agility of AWS has afforded customers like NASA to realize complex, scalable solutions at a fraction of the cost of traditional infrastructure. Building from this success, the AWS Scientific Computing team has been working globally to enable industry, educational institutions, and federal agencies in their missions to improve Earth sciences. This presentation discusses potential solutions for using cloud computing as a convening platform for disparate data sets and real-time collection methods, which in turn result in useful environment tools for both citizens and decision makers.



Risk and Society: A Communication Perspective

Andy Binder, NC State University, Department of Communication, Assistant Professor

Definitions of risk communication typically focus on the transfer of technical information from experts to lay audiences, with a focus on information. Social science research, however, suggests that failures of risk communication are due not to information alone but rather three inter-related problems: knowledge, trust, and communication. First, even with high levels of knowledge, laypeople often do not view a risk in the same way as experts. Second, people tend to understand messages in a social context that includes characteristics of the messenger (such as expertise and credibility). Third, the communication problem concerns the nature of information transmission – as a one-way street (from expert to lay audience) or as a two-way street (between experts and audiences). A three-pronged approach addressing these three problems seems to be the best way to convey risk information successfully to a variety of different audiences.


Well Water Quality: Providing Information and Evaluating Response

Caroline Loop, Wake County Department of Environmental Services, Groundwater Protection Program, Hydrogeologist

In 2013, Wake County began an initiative to provide outreach and enhanced technical assistance to private well owners. One aspect of the new program is to inform, educate, and empower people to make good decisions regarding private wells, water quality, and health. Wake County now conducts both broad and targeted outreach to educate well owners about water quality, and where appropriate, known contamination sites. Well owners may be hearing recommendations regarding their private well water for the first time, making it especially important to provide information in a manner that is accurate, understandable, and useful for personal decision-making. While conducting outreach activities, we have identified categories of reasons why well owners choose not to sample their wells and we have tailored approaches in response.


Risk Communication: Air Quality

Donnie Redmond, NC Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, Division of Air Quality, Ambient Monitoring Section, Chief

Traditionally, all air quality information has been provided to the public by the government. One of the main reasons has simply been the cost to acquire and operate a network of air samplers. But new sensor technologies are offering low-cost, portable, and reasonably-accurate monitoring devices. These new devices provide citizens with local, real-time data about their personal airspace. But with these new tools come new challenges. These include questions about the accuracy of the devices, interpretation of the data they provide, and comparability to the government-operated regulatory monitors. It’s an exciting time as we learn how to merge the old and new together.



NIEHS: Where Exposure Science and Citizen Science Meet

Rick Woychik, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Deputy Director

Exposure science and citizen science are both deeply embedded in the goals of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Strategic Plan and in the activities to implement them. A specific theme of the Strategic Plan is Exposure Research, defined as: Understanding how the complex nature of exposures, at the individual and population levels, contributes to health outcomes. The NIEHS accomplishes this through programs designed to explore the basic mechanisms of exposure to a wide variety of agents such as chemicals, mixtures, the microbiome, infectious agents, nutritional sources, and stress, and their interactions in the body. NIEHS-funded programs such as the Superfund Research Program, Exposure Biology Program, and National Toxicology Program include a focus on development of the tools including personal sensors, nutritional monitors, high throughput assays, and risk communication approaches that will allow for better understanding of exposures on an individual and community level. Collection of information is just the first step, and NIEHS is actively developing new approaches for standardizing, organizing, and integrating the huge amounts of data being generated by exposure research studies into the existing knowledge base so that information can be analyzed more synergistically, efficiently, and effectively. Underlying all of these efforts is the recognition of our mission to improve public health and a commitment to actively engage with citizens and communities in the conduct of the research and its application to real-world problems.


Innovation in Environmental Health Sciences: The Intersection between Community Engagement and the Human Exposome

Steven Patierno, Duke University, Duke Cancer Institute, Deputy Director

One of the most important challenges in environmental health sciences today is identifying the exposure levels of environmental toxins that impact one’s health. It is critical to use science as the basis to establish disease-relevant exposures with measurable impact. In order to accurately assess the impact of an “exposure” to any single health-relevant perturbation one must evaluate the lifetime exposure of target species to all internal and external stressors that continually impact health. These factors include the full range of environmental, lifestyle, genetic, epigenetic factors that intersect with basic biological processes, individual demographics and risk factors, social and physical context and societal level factors including those which contribute to environmental health disparities. Until we bring scientific rigor to these issues, we will continue to our imprecise extrapolations from high dose toxicology studies with limited relevance to environmental exposures, and continue to only be able to speculate on whether any particular environmental exposure is meaningful to human health.

Effectively addressing these challenges will require innovative transdisciplinary strategies that integrate research from the cellular level to the societal level while proactively embracing community engagement. Such research will both depend on the participation of individuals and the community at large, as well as enable us to more accurately inform the general public of the environmental health risk of exposures. At the leading edge of this innovation is research around what is called the human exposome. Exposome research brings the most sophisticated technologies like genomics, transcriptomics, proteomic and metabolomics, to bear on the challenge of determining whether an environmental exposure, or lifetime of exposures, is relevant to human health and disease. These technologies support the development of molecular signatures that validate exposures, predict risk, and unravel mechanisms of disease etiology. The discoveries made through exposome research will lead to better prevention, earlier detection, and more effective intervention, including treatments. This presentation will introduce these concepts and provide state-of-art examples of the potential impact of exposome research on environmental health.

Summit Supporters

Environmental Protection Agency

RTI International

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University

North Carolina State University

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

MDB, Inc.

Social & Scientific Systems, Inc.

North Carolina Biotechnology Center

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