About EPA

About the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory (NHEERL)

What We Do

The National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory (NHEERL) is the Agency's focal point for scientific research on the effects of contaminants and environmental stressors on human health and ecosystem integrity. Its research mission and goals help the Agency to identify and understand the processes that affect our health and environment, and helps the Agency to evaluate the risks that pollution poses to humans and ecosystems. The impact of the Laboratory's efforts can be felt far beyond the EPA, by enabling state and local governments to implement effective environmental programs, assisting industry in setting and achieving environmental goals, and collaborating with international governments and organizations on issues of environmental importance.

In addition to its own internal research focus, the Laboratory fosters cooperative research projects with academic and other scientific institutions which compliment the objectives of the EPA, while ensuring that the Agency receives the benefit of the highest quality peer-reviewed science. The Laboratory conducts a trans-disciplinary research program that strives to reduce the uncertainties inherent in assessing risk. These uncertainties vary in scope from fundamental scientific questions requiring sustained, long-term research strategies to Congressionally-mandated investigations that demand an immediate response. Accordingly, the Laboratory balances long-term and short-term research objectives, combining elements of both basic and applied sciences to provide a unique blend of research capabilities.

Research Projects Managed by the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory

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Harold Zenick, Pd.D., Director

Chris Robbins, Deputy Director

William Benson, Associate Director for Ecology

Ronald Hines, Associate Director for Health

The National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory includes:

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Atlantic Ecology Division (AED)

Location:  Narragansett, Rhode Island

Acting Director:  Wayne Munns

What We Do:   AED conducts sediment and water quality research in a variety of environments ranging from freshwater to marsh and estuarine to near-shore marine environments along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Maine. AED’s mission is to develop theory and methods, and analyze data to improve understanding of and quantify environmental effects of human activity on coastal waters and watersheds. Special areas of research include:

  • understanding, quantifying, and modeling cumulative effects of multiple sources of stress on coastal ecosystems,
  • developing methods for assessing ecological effects of contaminated   marine sediments,
  • clarifying the role of biogeochemical processes in effects of multiple sources of stress,
  • developing species, population, and community indicators of ecological impacts resulting from human activities, and
  • integrating ecological assessments of watersheds and coastal waters.

Programs and projects managed by AED

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Environmental Public Health Division (EPHD)

Location:  Research Triangle Park and Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Director: Wayne Cascio

What We Do: Performs epidemiological, clinical animal, and cellular toxicology research to assess the impact of environmental exposures on human health by:

  • developing, validating, and utilizing biological measures (biomarkers/bioindicators) in all aspects of human health to better link exposure, dose, and health outcomes;
  • conducting population-based and human clinical studies to examine a broad range of health outcomes and conditions associated with environmental exposures;
  • conducting parallel human clinical, animal, and cellular toxicology studies to assess the effects of environmental exposures; and
  • assessing the impact of environmental actions and decisions on public health.

Collection of human samples and information as part of the overall research portfolio will provide a foundation for collaboration with and a resource for other branches and divisions within NHEERL and ORD.

Epidemiology and Biomarkers Branch
Provides expertise in the conduct of epidemiology research, including field studies that integrate environmental, clinical, and biological markers to better understand pollutant-related disease etiology and prevention, gene-environment interactions, and the impacts of risk management decisions on public health.

Clinical Studies Branch
Has primary responsibility for the assessment of clinical effects of environmental exposures on healthy and susceptible humans. The emphasis is on cardiopulmonary effects and how public health conditions can alter these responses caused by ambient air pollutants. Physiological, cellular, and molecular approaches are integrated to characterize the effects of environmental exposures, as well as to understand the mechanisms that underlie toxicity.

Cardiopulmonary and Immunology Branch
Has primary responsibility for animal toxicology studies that assess the impact of environmental pollutants on the cardiovascular, respiratory, and immune systems in healthy and compromised individuals. Research spans various life stages, including fetal health and development and the elderly, and investigates the effect of exposure on development or exacerbation of cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

Inhalation Toxicology Facilities Branch
Has a primary responsibility for providing the capability of exposing animals and cells under carefully controlled conditions, as well as the development of new exposure systems that can extend the complexity of pollutants to be studied.

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Gulf Ecology Division (GED)

Location:  Gulf Breeze, Florida

Acting Director:  William Fisher

What We Do:   GED is responsible for research on the large-scale physical, chemical, and biological dynamics of coastal wetlands and estuaries, with emphasis on the Gulf of Mexico. Our research products provide information on the condition and functions of ecological resources, the services to society supplied by coastal ecosystems, rates and causes of ecological change and impairment, and predicted future conditions under various alternative scenarios.

Major activities of the research program focus on: (1) approaches and indicators for assessing the condition of ecosystems, including wetlands, estuaries, and coral reefs; and (2) applying a variety of landscape, population, statistical and systems models to predict relationships between stressors and changes in the structure, functions, and values of ecosystems. The Division provides research and technical support to EPA's Regional and Program offices, states, and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance.

EPA's and GED's authority to conduct environmental research is derived from the federal laws to protect public health and the environment. These laws include the Clean Air Act , Clean Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 1981.

Programs and projects managed by GED

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Integrated Systems Toxicology Division (ISTD)

Location:  Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

Director:  Charlene McQueen

What We Do:   The Integrated Systems Toxicology Division applies a systems biology approach to describe normal biological, homeostatic processes and to identify key events that signal departure from those processes leading to adverse health outcomes. Research seeks to develop an integrated framework across health end points through the identification of toxicological pathways. This approach is accomplished by the use of computational and molecular approaches to identify "key events" for biologically based dose-response and mode-of-action-based models, the development of physiologically based pharmacokinetic models for linkage to biologically based dose-response models, and the application of genetic and epigenetic approaches for understanding differential life stage sensitivities.

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Mid-Continent Ecology Division (MED)

Location:  Duluth, Minnesota and Grosse Ile, Michigan

Director:  Carl Richards, Ph.D

What We Do:   The Mid-Continent Ecology Division focuses on the ecological effects of toxic chemicals, genetically modified organisms, nutrients, habitat alterations, and global climate change. Within this context, this Division is responsible for providing leadership in ecotoxicology and freshwater ecology by advancing scientifically-sound approaches for monitoring trends in ecological condition within the Great Lakes and Rivers, identifying impaired watersheds and diagnosing causes of degradation, and establishing risk-based assessments to support restoration and remediation decisions.

Programs and projects managed by MED

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Research Cores Unit (RCU)

Location:  Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

Director:  Russell Owen

What We Do:   The Research Cores Unit conducts research to develop new methods and models for enhancing analytical detection, and assessment and analysis of data. The Unit provides support to laboratory research projects through the development and application of analytical chemistry, genomics, proteomics, biostatistical, and bioinformatic technologies. The Unit also serves as a resource to aid in the integration of technologies, data, and modeling efforts throughout the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory research program.

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Toxicity Assessment Division (TAD)

Location:  Research Triangle Park and Durham, North Carolina

Director:  John M. Rogers

What We Do:   The Toxicity Assessment Division addresses toxicological mechanisms and responses for target organ systems using multiple strategies related to:

  • chemical screening and prioritization, including assessing in vivo predictive value of in vitro tests and test methods development and interpretation;
  • chemical-specific and mixtures toxicity assessment, including hazard identification and dose-response characterization;
  • development and use of animal models of disease; and
  • evaluation of specific assumptions and hypotheses generated by systems biology models in collaboration with the Integrated Systems Toxicology Division.

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Western Ecology Division (WED)

Location:  Corvallis and Newport, Oregon

Director:  Thomas D. Fontaine, Ph.D

What We Do:   The mission of the Western Ecology Division, one of four of National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory’s ecological effects divisions, is

  • to provide EPA with national scientific leadership for terrestrial and regional-scale ecology, and
  • to develop the scientific basis for assessing the condition of aquatic resources and their response to natural and anthropogenic stresses.

The Division addresses scientific issues of major importance in formulating public policies, programs, and regulations to protect and manage ecological resources. WED scientists conduct research in a range of scientific disciplines, usually working in multi-disciplinary teams. In addition to their work at the Division's facilities and field sites, they collaborate with leading scientists at research institutions throughout the world. The research addresses the ecological processes that determine the response of biological resources to environmental change and to land and resource use. Priority is given to those ecological systems at greatest risk, with emphasis on the scientific uncertainties that most seriously impede ecological risk assessment.

WED's research approach includes:

  • developing an understanding of the structure and function of ecological systems, and 
  • conducting analyses of ecological phenomena at the ecosystem, landscape, and regional scales.

Key scientific disciplines include: terrestrial and aquatic (freshwater and marine) ecology, landscape ecology, wildlife biology, plant physiology, biotechnology, toxicology, biogeochemistry, oceanography, geography, multivariate, geospatial statistics, and ecological risk assessment.

The Division seeks to advance scientific understanding through:

  • experiments conducted in the laboratory and in specialized exposure chambers,
  • field studies,
  • modeling, and
  • analysis of large-scale environmental and ecological data sets.

Scientists at WED provide technical support to EPA’s program and Regional offices, states and tribes in order to extend the results of our research to our clients. Technical support can vary from presenting the results of our research at workshops to conducting data analyses and ecological condition assessment with our client partners. Our ultimate objective is to be certain that the best available research information and analytical tools are available to the Agency and scientific community.

Programs and projects managed by WED

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