Article

Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology (2010) 20, 351–358; doi:10.1038/jes.2009.20; published online 15 April 2009

The EPA's human exposure research program for assessing cumulative risk in communities
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Valerie G Zartariana and Bradley D Schultza

aU.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, National Exposure Research Laboratory, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA

Correspondence: Brad Schultz, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, E205-02 Research Triangle Park, NC, USA. Fax: +919 541 9444; E-mail: schultz.brad@epa.gov

Received 23 October 2008; Revised 30 January 2009; Accepted 2 February 2009; Published online 15 April 2009.

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Abstract

Communities are faced with challenges in identifying and prioritizing environmental issues, taking actions to reduce their exposures, and determining their effectiveness for reducing human health risks. Additional challenges include determining what scientific tools are available and most relevant, and understanding how to use those tools; given these barriers, community groups tend to rely more on risk perception than science. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Research and Development, National Exposure Research Laboratory (NERL) and collaborators are developing and applying tools (models, data, methods) for enhancing cumulative risk assessments. The NERL's “Cumulative Communities Research Program” focuses on key science questions: (1) How to systematically identify and prioritize key chemical stressors within a given community?; (2) How to develop estimates of exposure to multiple stressors for individuals in epidemiologic studies?; and (3) What tools can be used to assess community-level distributions of exposures for the development and evaluation of the effectiveness of risk reduction strategies? This paper provides community partners and scientific researchers with an understanding of the NERL research program and other efforts to address cumulative community risks; and key research needs and opportunities. Some initial findings include the following: (1) Many useful tools exist for components of risk assessment, but need to be developed collaboratively with end users and made more comprehensive and user-friendly for practical application; (2) Tools for quantifying cumulative risks and impact of community risk reduction activities are also needed; (3) More data are needed to assess community- and individual-level exposures, and to link exposure-related information with health effects; and (4) Additional research is needed to incorporate risk-modifying factors (“non-chemical stressors”) into cumulative risk assessments. The products of this research program will advance the science for cumulative risk assessments and empower communities with information so that they can make informed, cost-effective decisions to improve public health.

Keywords:

EPA; cumulative; exposure; communities; risk; community-based

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