Research

Faculty and students in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences are active in a wide variety of nationally and internationally recognized multidisciplinary research, education and research centers, and training programs. 

Just some of the areas of expertise of our faculty include occupational health and safety, infectious disease, hazardous materials, industrial hygiene, exposures, toxicology, global health, air and water contaminants, health policy, cancer, foodborne illness, and health policy.

The EnHS Faculty Directory includes biographies, expertise, publications and other information for all EnHS division faculty.

Research Centers

Our division is home to many national research centers and training programs. Our faculty and students work jointly with other researchers at the University of Minnesota and throughout the world on multidisciplinary research projects. The research centers also award pilot project grants to support innovative research projects.

Learn more about the centers within our division.

Laboratory Facilities

Graduate students in Environmental Health Sciences have the opportunity to participate closely with faculty on research projects in state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, as well as in field practice settings.

Industrial Hygiene Lab

The Industrial Hygiene Laboratory, shared by the IH core faculty, occupies 2,500 sq. ft. and is equipped with the latest instrumentation for measurement of gases, vapors, particulate matter, biological aerosols, noise, radiation, and hazardous materials.

The lab consists of a large room occupied by a wind tunnel, a filter tester, and two biological safety cabinets; a smaller room with a walk-in exposure chamber and two laboratory hoods; a wet-chemistry laboratory with work benches and another lab hood; and several smaller work, storage, and office spaces.

For aerosol research and measurements, the IH Lab has condensation particle counters for measuring nanoparticle concentrations, nephelometers for measuring aerosol mass concentrations, diffusion chargers capable of measuring surface area concentrations, instruments for measuring particle size distributions, samplers for collecting biological aerosols, and numerous gravimetric samplers and cascade impactors. To analyze filter samples, microbalances and microscopes are present.

The IH Lab owns equipment for gas and vapor sampling, including direct reading instruments for measuring ammonia and hydrogen sulfide concentrations and concentrations of organic vapors. The lab also has typical industrial hygiene devices such as flow calibrators, sampling and vacuum pumps, Dräger pumps and tubes, noise dosimeters, velometers, manometers, pressure gauges, pitot tubes, and centrifugal fans. Equipment is available for generating different kinds of gases, vapors, and aerosols for experiments.

Toxicology Lab

The Toxicology Laboratory is equipped with state-of-the-art tissue culture facilities, high-speed centrifuge, rotors, microfuges, speed vac, environmental shaker, visible and UV spectrophotometer, fluorimeter, luminometer polymerase chain reaction (PCR), liquid scintillation counter, dark room, electrophoresis and electroblotting equipment for protein and nucleic acid purification, BioRad Econo System, and chromatography cabinet for doing work at four degrees Centigrade.

Environmental Chemistry Lab

The Environmental Chemistry Laboratory is equipped with extraction and processing equipment for trace analysis of environmental samples. The lab includes three GC/MS, one LC/MS, a GC/ECD, and a scintillation counter.

Current laboratory research focuses on understanding the processes that govern organic toxicant behavior in the aquatic environment. Fundamental research in the laboratory is also conducted to develop and test hypotheses of chemical behavior in the “real world.”

The Environmental Chemistry Laboratory participates in a large multiagency effort that is developing a model for use in the Great Lakes that describes toxic chemical behavior. Additional projects concentrate on the relative roles of atmospheric versus nonatmospheric sources of chemicals to the Great Lakes and the state of Minnesota, to aid in the management and regulation of the ecosystem.

Funded Research Projects by Faculty

Bruce H. Alexander

Bruce H. Alexander Faculty Page

Assessment of Injuries in Pork Production Facilities
Funding Source: National Pork Board
12/15/2014 – 12/14/2015
The goal of this of this project is to evaluate existing data systems to improve the comprehensive and routine assessment of the frequency, causes burden and cost of work related injury and illness in swine production facilities. This project will build a partnership between the University of Minnesota, the National Pork Board, and key US pork industry leaders.

Cancer and Other Disease Risks in Nuclear Medicine Technologists: A Feasibility Study
Funding Source: National Cancer Institute (NCI)
08/28/2015 – 08/27/2016
The objective of this project is to develop a protocol for enrolling and following a new cohort of radiologic technologists with specializations in nuclear medicine and fluoroscopically guided procedures. These sub-specialties have higher potential exposures than other radiologic technologists.

Mortality and Cancer Incidence in PFOS Exposed Workers
Funding Source: 3M
06/01/2015 – 05/13/2016
The objective of this study is to evaluate potential health risks associated with occupational exposure to perfluorooctanesulfonyl fluoride (POSF). The study will evaluate the mortality experience of workers employed at a 3M facility in Decatur Alabama that manufactured POSF and conduct a feasibility study for a linkage to regional cancer registries.

Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health (UMASH) Center
Funding Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
09/30/2011 – 09/29/2016
The Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health (UMASH) Center is one of nine Centers of Excellence in Agricultural Disease and Injury Research, Education, and Prevention funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) throughout the United States. The center is a collaboration of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and College of Veterinary Medicine, the National Farm Medicine Center of the Marshfield Clinic, and the Minnesota Department of Health.

Timothy R. Church

Timothy R. Church Faculty Page

Analysis of Phase I Trial for CXR1002
Funding Source: 3M
02/10/2014 – 12/31/2015
This is a phase-I study of CXR1002 in late-stage cancer patients examining time-dependent relations among CXR1002 serum and urine levels, liver and renal function, coagulation, lipids, thyroid hormones, PPAR-α and  -γ, insulin, and glucose by age, sex, cancer type, and treatment.

Central Data Collection Center (CDCC)
Funding Source: Westat, Inc.
06/01/2013 – 02/28/2016
The purpose of this contract is to provide support to Westat, Inc., who is administrating a centralized follow-up of participants from the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial.  Follow-up of participants will provide data for molecular epidemiologic research.

Colon Cancer Family Registry Cohort
Funding Source: Stanford University/National Cancer Institute (NCI) prime
05/01/2013 – 04/30/2016
This project stimulates a collaborative effort for the establishment of a cooperative family registry for epidemiologic and interdisciplinary study of individuals at high risk for colorectal cancer.

Colorectal Chemoprevetion with Calcium & Vitamin D (VICAPPS)
Funding Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill/National Cancer Institute (NCI) prime
09/15/2010 – 07/31/2016
The major goal of this clinical trial is to clarify the synergistic and independent chemopreventive effects of both vitamin D and calcium on the development of colon polyps.  Epidemiological and experimental data indicate that both exert anti-neoplastic effects in the large colon.

Creation of a Parkinson Disease Registry and Initial Studies to Address Its Causes and Genetic Susceptibility
Funding Source: MnDRIVE Transdisciplinary Research, University of Minnesota
07/01/2014 – 06/30/2016
This project focuses on the pathogenesis of PD in two rigorous, focused studies: 1) whether pesticide and other environmental exposures are related to PD in Minnesotans and 2) what the genetic markers of susceptibility are in a cohort of Minnesotans with and without PD. As a by-product, it creates permanent infrastructure for a state-wide voluntary registry of Minnesotans with PD and their asymptomatic counterparts to facilitate future, expanding research opportunities.

Susan G. Gerberich

Susan G. Gerberich Faculty Page

Midwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety (MCOHS) Education and Research Center
Funding Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
07/01/2014 – 06/30/2020
This education and research center, founded in 1977, was designed in response to a mandate of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) — to provide an adequate supply of qualified personnel to carry out the purposes of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and reduce the national burden of work-related injury and illness. MCOHS provides graduate academic and research training programs, continuing education and outreach activities, including research-to-practice, and serves as a regional resource for industry, labor, federal, state, and local government agencies, agriculture, and other interested parties.

Craig W. Hedberg

Craig W. Hedberg Faculty Page

Developing Electronic Audio-Visual Food Safety Training for Limited English-Speaking Workers in the Food Service Industry
Funding Source: MnDRIVE Global Food Ventures, University of Minnesota
07/01/2015 – 06/30/2016
The goal of this proposal is to develop a user-friendly, interactive food safety-training program tailored for low literacy and limited English workers, a critical segment of the Minnesota food industry workforce. The program will be designed and developed using iOS and/or Android applications (apps). This app will supplement live training, and will be organized by topics covered in the food safety certification class. Learners will use this app to prepare for the food manager certification class and receive rapid feedback on their understanding through voiceover multiple choice questions, selection of a corresponding image on the screen, or other audio-visual cues.

Food Safety Center of Excellence (CoE)
Funding Source: Minnesota Department of Health/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) prime
11/15/2012 – 08/30/2016
The Minnesota Department of Health Food Safety Center of Excellence will provide technical assistance and training on epidemiological, laboratory, and environmental investigations of foodborne illness outbreaks and associated analyses. The center will identify and implement best practices in foodborne diseases surveillance and will serve as a resource for public health professionals at state, local, and regional levels.

Food Safety Center of Excellence (CoE)
Funding Source: State of Oregon/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) prime
09/01/2013 – 07/31/2015
The Oregon Health Authority Food Safety Center of Excellence will provide technical assistance and training on epidemiological, laboratory, and environmental investigations of foodborne illness outbreaks and associated analyses. The center will identify and implement best practices in foodborne diseases surveillance and will serve as a resource for public health professionals at state, local, and regional levels.

George Maldonado

George Maldonado Faculty Page

Methodological Challenges in Answering Causal Questions in Air Pollution Research
Funding Source: American Petroleum Institute (API)
01/01/2016 – 12/31/2016
The goal of this project is to write a manuscript on the methodological challenges in answering causal questions in air pollution research. In this manuscript we will do the following: (1) outline (specifically in the context of air pollution research) what the methodological literature on causal inference has shown to be required before a causal conclusion can be validly made; and (2) quantitatively examine the magnitude of error that could occur in air-pollution study results due to methodological challenges. This manuscript is intended to be a reference for workers in air pollution research.

Patricia M. McGovern

Patricia M. McGovern Faculty Page

Creating Evidence Based Public Health Guidance for Manganese Levels in Drinking Water: A Pilot Study
Funding Source: Consortium on Law and Values In Health, Environment & Life Sciences, University of Minnesota
07/01/2013 – 06/30/2016
This study will investigate levels of manganese in drinking water, creating novel biomarkers to measure body burden of manganese and assessing adverse infant neurobehavioral outcomes in association with excessive manganese levels, an emerging scientific and public health policy issue salient across Minnesota. An essential micronutrient, low levels of dietary manganese are beneficial for health. However, an emerging literature suggests low levels of environmental exposure to manganese may also adversely affect child neurodevelopment; evidence-based policy specific to infants is lacking. Our pilot study aims to: 1) Assess determinants of manganese exposure levels in prenatal women 2) Evaluate manganese levels in drinking water at the household tap; 3) Estimate the association of drinking water manganese with prenatal biomarkers of manganese from women’s toenail clippings; 4) Estimate the association of manganese exposure in infants’ toenail clippings with effects on infants’ neurobehavioral development; 5) Obtain metrics of feasibility and participation.

Lisa A. Peterson

Lisa Peterson Faculty Page

Interactions Between Tobacco Smoke Constituents in Rodent Tumor Models
Funding Source: National Cancer Institute (NCI)
04/01/2014 – 03/31/2019
The goal of this project is to characterize the potential interactions between known human carcinogens (4‑methylnitrosamino-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone, N-nitrosonornicotine, or benzo[a]pyrene) and volatile components of tobacco smoke (acetaldehyde, acrolein, and formaldehyde) in established rodent tumor models.

American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant
Funding Source: American Cancer Society
01/01/2013 – 12/31/2016
This grant funds junior faculty seed grants for cancer research at the University of Minnesota.

Gurumurthy Ramachandran

Gurumurthy Ramachandran Faculty Page

Hierarchical Statistical Modeling
Funding Source: University of California, Los Angeles/National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) prime
09/01/13 – 08/31/16
This goal of this project is to advance scientific understanding of the underlying physical processes in occupational hygiene by developing innovative statistical tools for estimating and validating such models using field data.

Respirator Diseases and Exposure to Elongated Mineral Particles in Taconite Ore Processing
Funding Source: National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH)
05/01/2014 – 04/30/2017
This proposal attempts to advance our understanding of the relationship between exposures to elongated mineral particles (EMPs) of various lengths and widths and several respiratory health outcomes. We are proposing to create a large data set of personal exposures of taconite miners to EMPs with detailed information on dimension, mineralogy, and habit, by re-analyzing a large number of samples that were collected as part of another study. A large cohort of workers has been assembled with health outcome data with increasing levels of specificity. This information along with the exposure measurements will be used to address the question of health effects of non-asbestiform EMPs, and also the various hypotheses regarding the appropriate dimensions of the EMPs that may be relevant to respiratory health.

Peter C. Raynor

Peter C. Raynor Faculty Page

Midwest Emerging Tech Public Health & Safety Program (METPHAST)
Funding Source: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
08/01/2013 – 7/31/2016
The METPHAST Program is a multi-institutional education program, led by the University of Minnesota with partners at the University of Iowa and Dakota County Technical College, that trains and educates students and working professionals regarding health and safety issues associated with emerging technologies. The program’s objective is to develop a comprehensive array of focused, web-based modules about nanotechnology health and safety that can be used by instructors to tailor education and training initiatives to serve the unique needs of different learners.

Matt C. Simcik

Matt C. Simcik Faculty Page

Development of a Novel Approach for in Situ Remediation of PF
Funding Source: Department of Defense (DOD)
02/10/2014 – 08/06/2017
The primary purpose of this research is to use coagulants to sequester perfluorinated compounds to the solid phase in groundwater systems where fire training activity has been conducted by the military, and resulted in extensive contamination of the groundwater.

Estimating the Exposure of the Hmong Community to Perfluorochemicals from Their Food Baskets
Funding Source: Health Disparities Research – Medical School, University of Minnesota
03/30/2015 – 03/29/2016
This investigation is collaboration between Dr. Matt Simcik of the Division of Environmental Health Sciences in the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and the Women’s Environmental Institute (WEI). It will determine any increased exposure of non-resident Hmong community members in the East Metro from perfluorochemical contamination of farm fields and fish. Analyses of vegetables from fields both suspected of contamination and those not expected to be contaminated will be performed in Dr. Simciks laboratory. The WEI will conduct a survey of diet, living history and health history of participants recruited by WEI from their Environmental Justice Education and Advocacy Collaborative (EJEAC).

Irina Stepanov

Irina Stepanov Faculty Page

Constituent Yields and Biomarkers of Exposure for Tobacco Product Regulation
Funding Source: National Cancer Institute (NCI)
09/02/2013 – 08/31/2018
This study aims to develop a testing approach that can produce meaningful predictions of changes in human exposure due to changes in constituent levels in cigarette smoke, and hence serve as a reliable measure for product regulation.

Nornicotine in Smokeless Tobacco as a Precursor for Carcinogen Exposure
Funding Source: National Cancer Institute (NCI)
05/01/2014 – 04/30/2019
This study investigates endogenous formation of the carcinogenic nitrosamine NNN upon exposure to nornicotine from tobacco use, and the effect of the reduction of nornicotine content in smokeless tobacco on the extent of endogenous NNN formation.

William A. Toscano

William A. Toscano Faculty Page

Hazardous Material Worker Health and Safety Training
Funding Source: University of Cincinnati/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) prime
04/24/2015 – 07/31/2016
The Midwest Consortium for Hazardous Waste Worker Training has been funded since 1987 by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to develop, present and evaluate model worker training programs to help employers comply with 29 CFR 1910.120. We offer in-person hazmat and hazwoper training, custom trainings at our site or yours to meet the needs of groups and companies, and community workshops.

Minnesota Technical Assistance Program
Funding Source: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
07/01/2010 – 06/30/2016
The goal of this project is to assist Minnesota Businesses with pollution prevention and waste management information, facilitate implementation of improved practices through on-site assistance, provide referral for compliance with environmental regulations and minimize transfer of pollutants from one environment to another.

Research Center Projects

Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) Projects

The Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) is an outreach program under the Division of Environmental Sciences that helps Minnesota businesses develop and implement industry-tailored solutions that prevent pollution at the source, maximize efficient use of resources, and reduce energy use and costs to improve public health and the environment.  

Currently funded projects under MnTAP include:

Demonstrate Low Hazard Degreasing Solvents in Maintenance Operations in Minnesota and Manufacturing Businesses in Minnesota
Funding Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
10/01/2014 – 09/30/2015
The primary objective in this project is to support adoption of non-VOC, non-HAP degreasing solvents by conducting a demonstration of alternatives in various on-site applications at businesses in Minnesota. Results from these evaluations will be shared with other businesses across the state to encourage voluntary transition to less hazardous degreasing chemicals.

Demonstrating Source Reduction Strategies for Food Waste in Public Schools
Funding Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
06/01/2015 – 05/31/2016
This project will use pollution prevention tactics to identify the most significant sources of food waste in public schools and key barriers to preventing or reducing the food waste. The project will involve recommending strategies or innovative approaches for addressing the barriers and demonstrating at least one of the recommended strategies or approaches in at least one public school.

E3 for the Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic Industry – Waste, Energy and Lean Assessments
Funding Source: MN Pollution Control Agency
02/18/14 – 09/30/15
Fiber Reinforced Plastics (FRP) composites are used to make a wide variety of products including recreational boat hulls, electrical enclosures and heavy machinery bodies. The primary components of a FRP composite are chopped fiberglass, a polyester resin, and styrene as volatile cross-linking agent. Approximately 40 to 60 FRP fabrication shops are located in Minnesota. Environmental and health risks come from styrene in the resin that is released by evaporation during standard use conditions, resulting in employee exposure and releases of styrene to the air. This proposal promotes the application of the principals outlined in the Federal program Energy, Economy and Environment, E3, to provide training, assessments and technical assistance to FRP shops across the state. Environmental Assessments will be applied to reduce material intensity of the processes and decrease the air emissions of styrene. In addition Energy Assessments will be conducted at shop facilities to identify opportunities for energy conservation within the facilities. This work will promote Lean process improvement training and follow on activities to reduce waste from work flow processes.

Energy Efficiency Implementation with Identification and Scoping of Renewable Energy Opportunities in Minnesota Wastewater Treatment Facilities
Funding Source: Minnesota Department of Commerce
03/19/2015 – 12/31/2017
The goal of this project is to provide technical assistance services to assess Minnesota municipal wastewater treatment facilities for energy efficiency opportunities and identify facilities that may be able to incorporate energy generation into their operations.

Motivating Manufacturing Energy Efficiency: E2 Assessment and GreenLean(SM) Training with Directed Implementation Assistance
Funding Source: Minnesota Department of Commerce
12/03/2012 – 03/31/2016
The goal of this project is to work with Enterprise Minnesota to provide Minnesota manufacturers with energy efficiency assessments, GreenLean(SM) training, and directed implementation assistance. The targeted assistance would provide the hands-on approach to implementation that many companies need in order to move from the recommendation stage to implementation. This will result in an approach to assisting companies with identifying opportunities for energy efficiency improvement and increasing implementation rates. We anticipate engaging at least two companies per year for a total of six companies over a three year period. This assessment, training, and directed assistance approach to implementing energy efficiency improvements in manufacturing operations has the opportunity to be replicated at other facilities and, when demonstrated to be successful, could be included in future CIPs.

Small Embedded Data Center Program Pilots
Funding Source: Center for Energy and Environment
01/23/2015 – 10/31/2016
The goal of this project is to provide technical assistance to small to mid-size manufacturing companies for assessment and measurement of energy use in their data centers and server operations.

Water Conservation Intern Project
Funding Source: Metropolitan Council
05/22/2014 – 12/31/2015
Through this project, MnTAP interns will explore opportunities for water conservation by businesses in the eleven county metro area through a contract with the Metropolitan Council Environmental Services. Through this work Metropolitan Council Environmental Services will gain information on water conservation opportunities. As part of this project, results will be summarized in executive summaries on water conservation resulting from three detailed intern project investigations and presented at a public event.