About the Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards | NYU Langone Health

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Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards About the Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards

About the Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards

At NYU Langone’s Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards, we build on our expanded capacity in assessment of organic contaminant exposures, metabolomics and bioinformatics, and clinical and environmental health human studies in three areas:

  • integration of organic contaminant exposure assessment into human and laboratory studies
  • execution of multiomic studies incorporating a fuller exposome perspective
  • broader examination of the effects of environmental exposures beyond the perinatal period

Translational Research Vision and Track Record

With our broad base of investigators, who span disciplines including toxicology, exposure science, epigenetics, community outreach, health economics, and clinical medicine, we have built a strong track record of moving across the five rings of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) translational research framework.

Translational Research Examples

The following examples illustrate synergy across our NIEHS Center, and highlight our ability to evolve research in the context of emerging environmental health issues while maximizing the impact of our work in support of the NIEHS strategic plan.

Air Pollution

Despite significant progress since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, New Yorkers still breathe polluted air that adversely affects their health. Most people know smog from cars and buses is a major culprit, but a significant amount of dangerous air pollution also comes from the buildings in which we live and work. In the basements of thousands of large residential, commercial, and institutional buildings in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, boilers burn a dirty fuel to heat their units. This type of oil—referred to as “residual fuel oil” because it is essentially the leftovers from the petroleum distillation process—releases soot and toxic chemicals into the air. Over time, these can lead to cardiovascular disease, asthma, and even premature death.

Studies by Lung-Chi Chen, PhD, and Terry Gordon, PhD, found that numerous trace elements in heating oil are associated with the reactive oxygen species (ROS) response in vascular endothelial cells (NIEHS Fundamental Questions ring). Kevin R. Cromar, PhD, and George D. Thurston, ScD, combined these and other population studies to model health and economic benefits of mitigation (NIEHS Application and Synthesis, and Implementation and Adjustment rings). It was found that converting residential, commercial, and institutional boilers from residual oil to natural gas would decrease the soot New Yorkers breathe, avoiding hundreds of deaths and other adverse health impacts, and saving billions of dollars in associated health costs.

The center translates air pollution research across the NIEHS translational research framework from the associated trace element in residual oil with the ROS response in vascular endothelial cells to replacement of residual oil with cleaner alternatives which reduced wintertime air pollution and adverse health effects
The center translates air pollution research across the NIEHS translational research framework.

Dr. Cromar worked closely with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and testified on this matter before the New York City Council, leading to new policy implementation in New York City (NIEHS Practice ring). These findings contributed to a subsequent ban in New York City on the use of residual oil in favor of cleaner oil and natural gas. Then-mayor Michael Bloomberg allocated more than $100 million to help buildings convert to clean heating fuels, leading to a substantial reduction in winter air pollution and adverse health effects in New York City (NIEHS Impact ring).

Electronic Cigarettes

Center members Michael L. Weitzman, MD; Judith T. Zelikoff, PhD; and Terry Gordon, PhD, were among the first to document the rapid acceleration of e-cigarette use in youth and adults switching from traditional to e-cigarettes (NIEHS Fundamental Questions ring). Though some studies suggested lower levels of carcinogens in vapor, Moon-Shong Tang, PhD, and colleagues documented DNA damage and repair inhibition in mouse lungs and bladder epithelium (moving within the NIEHS Fundamental Questions ring, in vivo organism). Later studies documented increases in lung and bladder cancer in exposed mice.

These findings have accelerated ongoing work in human populations (NIEHS Fundamental Questions ring, population observation) by Dr. Gordon to study cardiovascular effects. Studies by Dr. Gordon and Dr. Weitzman examine air quality in homes where e-cigarettes are smoked, while Melanie Jacobson, PhD, MPH; Linda Kahn, PhD, MPH; and Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, are studying preconception and prenatal effects, with early findings from the Children’s Health and Environment Study documenting rare use (1.1 percent before pregnancy and 0.2 percent during), but a 0.49 z-score birth weight decrease in exposed newborns (manuscript in preparation).

The center translates electronic cigarettes research across the NIEHS translational research framework, from identifying the effects of e-cig exposure in mice and in humans through documenting trade-offs between e-cigs and other smoking cessation alternatives as benefits of prevention
The center translates electronic cigarettes research across the NIEHS translational research framework.

These studies are limited due to their reliance on self-reporting, prompting Kurunthachalam Kannan, PhD, to develop a biomarker screen in the Human and Environmental Exposure Assessment Facility Core (NIEHS Implementation and Adjustment ring). Drew R. Jones, PhD, in the Multiomics Facility Core is examining metabolomic markers in the urine of pregnant women to elaborate potential signature biomarkers of effect. These studies would then be validated in human studies (NIEHS Fundamental Questions ring) in collaboration with the Integrated Heath Science Facility Core.

As our studies document effects, Dr. Trasande will work with the Integrated Heath Science Facility Core to quantify disease burden and costs of exposure, informing policy and risk management (NIEHS Practice ring). The tradeoffs between e-cigarettes and other smoking cessation alternatives can then be documented as benefits of prevention (NIEHS Impact ring).

Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals

Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, director of the center, has performed studies leveraging the Generation R First (R01ES022972) and Next (R01ES029779) to examine prenatal and preconception effects, respectively, of phthalate and bisphenol exposures on fetal and postnatal growth. With support of the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program, Dr. Trasande is examining these exposures as well as organophosphate pesticides and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in pregnancy (UH30223305) on fetal and postnatal growth in the Children’s Health and Environment Study and the Infant Development and Environment Study (NIEHS Fundamental Questions ring, population observation).

The center translates endocrine-disrupting chemical research across the NIEHS translational research framework from identifying effects of prenatal/postconception EDC exposure on fetal/postnatal growth in humans to determining that the benefits might outweigh the costs of replacing bisphenol A in aluminum cans with a compound free of effects.
The center translates endocrine-disrupting chemical research across the NIEHS translational research framework.

The Multiomics and Environmental Health Statistics and Bioinformatics facility cores are leveraging genome-wide methylome and transcriptome measurements in cord blood and metabolomics in maternal and infant urine to identify unique biomarkers of effect that are directly related to these exposures (NIEHS Implementation and Adjustment ring). Kurunthachalam Kannan, PhD, is developing novel biomarker screens to assess exposure to emerging phthalate replacements. This activity grew in part out of associations of adverse outcomes in Generation R First with urinary levels of phthalic acid (a common end metabolite of all phthalates) but not other high-molecular- or low-molecular-weight phthalates, suggesting a replacement phthalate that may have its own adverse effect profile.

Dr. Trasande has documented substantial disease burden and economic costs due to phthalates, bisphenols, and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have informed policy discussions in the United States and Europe (NIEHS Practice ring). He has documented how the economic benefits of replacing bisphenol A (BPA) in aluminum cans with a replacement free of effects may outweigh the costs of such a replacement (NIEHS Impact ring).