Division Overview

Prevention research in Environmental Health Science has been a key mission of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine since its inception. Our ultimate goal is protection of the public's health by understanding, elucidating, and preventing diseases that arise from environmental exposures. The Division has a long and distinguished history in identifying and quantitating cancer hazards, reproductive dysfunction, and neurological disease associated with exposures to toxic agents in the environment. Current directions in research include study of the molecular epidemiology of cancer, endocrine-active exposures and their effects on reproductive and neurological health, and children's environmental health.

Particularly notable has been the historic research undertaken in the Center on the carcinogenic risks of asbestos. This research, which was directed for over 25 years by the late Professor Irving J. Selikoff, M.D., documented etiologic associations between asbestos, lung cancer, malignant mesothelioma, and gastrointestinal cancer. Other carcinogenic agents that have been studied in the Center include: vinyl chloride, PCBs, PBBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, TCDD, nitrosamines, styrene, and metallic lead.

Cancer research, both etiologic and prognostic, now focuses on female reproductive organs, using molecular epidemiologic methods to elucidate environmental, genetic, epigenetic, and interactive risk factors. These are being addressed in the population-based Long Island Breast Cancer Study in collaboration with its principal investigators at North Carolina and Columbia.

Research into the health effects of lead exposure include examination of the mobilization of lead in bone during periods of high bone turnover (pregnancy, lactation, and menopause), as well as studies of the impact of lead on renal and cardiovascular disease and potential effects on neurologic function, especially behavioral functions in children and adolescents. Lead exposure in the workplace is being studied to examine chronic neurological effects. Research on the effect of lead on male reproductive capacity and on aging has been done.

Recently undertaken studies on environmental impacts on health in early childhood include a birth cohort study of 404 children to examine somatic and neurological development in relation to pesticide and PCB exposures as well as phthalates, phenols, and lead. A birth cohort of 187 women who were heavily exposed during the destruction of the World Trade Center has addressed outcomes including post-traumatic stress, intrauterine growth restriction, and neurodevelopment. Two studies have been done to investigate the potential influence of diet and environment on puberty and on the racial/ethnic differences in puberty among prepubertal girls. Other studies include an epidemiologic assessment of the health effects caused by special theatrical effects in performers on Broadway. An investigation of stress and cardiovascular disease among security guards commenced in Fall 1998.

The Division works closely with Department investigators specializing in Community Outreach and Education in our commitment to improve and inform the health of underserved neighborhoods. The Program includes a team of faculty who develop educational activities for students of all levels, establish collaborations with community-based organizations, provide technical expertise for workers and policy makers, and assess issues of environmental justice in minority communities.


  • M. Wolff, Ph.D.
  • J. Chen, Ph.D.
  • A. Golden, Ph.D.
  • P. Landrigan, M.D.
  • S. Teitelbaum, Ph.D.
  • A. Todd, Ph.D.