CINCINNATI—The University of Cincinnati (UC) Department of Environmental Health, moving to take a national leadership role in toxicological risk assessment, has added key faculty and staff with expertise in the rapidly evolving field.
Shuk-Mei Ho, PhD, Jacob G. Schmidlapp Chair of Environmental Health and professor at the UC College of Medicine, says a new unit specializing in toxicological risk assessment will be part of the department’s Division of Environmental and Occupational Hygiene.
"We’ve been able to successfully recruit new talent and expertise and create a unit that will further enhance our department’s reputation,” says Ho, who has led the department since 2005. "This expansion into toxicological risk assessment has complementary benefits to industrial hygiene, toxicology, genomics, big data, public health and other areas where the department has strong expertise.”
The new hires—three faculty members and 12 staff members—come from Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA), a Cincinnati-based nonprofit organization that was founded in 1995 to perform risk assessment values and analyses, conduct research, and educate risk assessors, managers and the public on risk assessment issues.
Working with both public and private funders and sponsors, TERA has undertaken a wide variety of projects. These have included selecting and convening a panel of experts to review and discuss the available toxicology data in the wake of the January 2014 chemical spill of 10,000 gallons of the chemical 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) into the Elk River in West Virginia and convening an expert panel to conducting a review of toxicity benchmark values for use in the World Trade Center cleanup.
The new faculty are Michael Dourson, PhD, Lynne Haber, PhD, and John Reichard, PhD. Dourson founded TERA in 1995 and served as its director, while Haber was associate director of science and Reichard, a former postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Environmental Health, was a toxicologist. In addition, 12 TERA employees are joining the staff of the Department of Environmental Health.
Dourson, who holds a doctorate in toxicology from UC, is a board-certified toxicologist and a fellow of the Academy of Toxicological Sciences and the Society for Risk Analysis. At UC, he will serve as director of the toxicological risk assessment program with Andrew Maier, PhD, an associate professor of environmental health and former chair of the TERA Fellows Program, serving as co-director.
"By joining forces with the talented staff of the Department of Environmental Health, we have even greater opportunities to advance the science and practice of risk assessment and to contribute high-quality analyses that help protect public health and the environment,” Dourson says.
Toxicological risk assessment is the process of analyzing chemicals to determine whether an environmental hazard might cause harm to exposed persons. It consists of four general steps: hazard identification, dose-response assessment, exposure assessment and risk characterization, which involves integrating information from the first three steps to develop a qualitative or quantitative estimate of the likelihood that any of the hazards associated with the agent of concern will be realized in exposed people.
The toxicology excellence for risk assessment unit in the Department of Environmental Health will perform a variety of additional tasks, including:
- Developing new risk values.
- Conducting original risk assessment research.
- Reviewing assessments prepared by other parties.
- Analyzing risk positions and approaches of government agencies and industry.
- Providing expert opinion for litigation support.
- Designing toxicological and exposure studies.
- Preparing educational or training materials.
TERA has been at the forefront of rapidly evolving methods of toxicological risk assessment, fueled by the burgeoning fields of bioinformatics and molecular toxicology and their wealth of data that were not traditionally available. Nevertheless, Dourson says, the goal of the new unit remains simple:
"What we will continue to do is preventive medicine,” he says. "The ultimate goal is to keep people healthy.”