Charting the Future of Exposure Science

Photo: Exposure Science
Conceptual framework showing the core elements of exposure science

The US National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a major report offering a strategy to advance the future of exposure science. It includes a road map of technologic developments and strategic collaborations to move the field from a focus on single exposures toward an integrated approach that takes both human and ecologic systems into account.

Exposure science investigates the intensity and duration of contact of humans or other organisms with chemical, physical, or biological stressors and plays a fundamental role in the fields of public health, policy-making, commerce, and environmental protection.

The report introduces the vision of the “eco-exposome,” which builds on the exposome concept of comprehensively measuring all exposures, both internal and external, that people receive during their lifetime. The eco-exposome is an extension of exposure science into an approach that examines the effects of exposure not only on living organisms, but also the general environment and its ecosystems.

“We are still focused on the point of contact between the environment and the organism,” says Kirk R. Smith, chair of the NAS committee that authored the report. “But now we allow for measuring biochemical changes internally in the body as well as externally in ecosystems. Linking these levels, then, becomes a major activity of exposure science.”

The report also shows how advanced statistical methods and technologies make it possible to calculate environmental health exposures with sensitivity and specificity, validating a shift in the field away from environmental assessments based on handbook default exposure factors, according to Smith.

These technological and scientific innovations are now spurring fields known as “ubiquitous,” “embedded,” and “participatory” sensing, according to co-author Michael Jerrett. “Working prototypes based on cell-phone technologies have already demonstrated capacity to measure physical activity, geographic position, lung function, and some pollution exposures. Such technologies can be woven into social networking systems to voluntarily capture and share data on environmental conditions and the human response while in the exposure field.”

The authors caution that, although technological opportunities will continue to emerge in the coming decades, many issues remain unresolved and are critical areas for research, such as the protection of personal privacy and the complex integration of different monitoring tools and data.

In a future report, Smith would like to examine potential changes in policy as scientists focus on exposure “hot spots” where people are most affected instead of general measures of environmental quality. He suggests that local influences such as secondhand smoke, proximity to roadways, and occupational hazards, for example, may prove more important to people’s health than low-level ambient exposures as the general environment becomes cleaner.

COEH members on the Committee include chair Kirk R. Smith, professor of Global Environmental Health at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, Michael Jerrett, chair of Environmental Health Sciences also in the School of Public Health, Thomas McKone, adjunct professor in the School of Public Health and a senior staff scientist in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division, and Gina Solomon, deputy secretary for Science and Health at the California Environmental Protection Agency.

The report titled, “The Future of Human and Environmental Exposure Science in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy” was sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Visit the National Academies Press for a copy of the report: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13507&page=42.


Global Energy Assessment — New Solutions for a Sustainable Future

Photo: Global Energy Assessment Book Cover

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) published the Global Energy Assessment (GEA) in October, the first fully integrated energy assessment to analyze challenges, opportunities, and strategies for developing, industrialized, and emerging economies.

The report, led by many of the world’s leading energy experts, establishes a benchmark of the current understanding of options for building a sustainable energy future. It also contains analytic tools to make the findings actionable by decision-makers that are both global and country-specific.

COEH member Kirk R. Smith, 2012 Tyler Laureate and director of the Global Health and Environment Program at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, is a member of the Executive Committee of the report and lead author of Chapter 4 titled, “Energy and Health.” COEH member Tom McKone of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Zoe Chafe of the UCB Energy and Resources Group were part of the expert panel for the chapter.

Published at 1990 pages by Cambridge University Press, GEA draws attention to the need for clean cooking and electricity for the world’s poor, a primary subject of Smith’s research. The Preface reports that three billion people lack access to basic energy services and have to cook with solid fuels.

To view or download the GEA as a whole or by chapter as well as its technical summary and summary for policy makers, visit: http://www.iiasa.ac.at/web/home/research/researchPrograms/Energy/Home-GEA.en.html.

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