Environmental Toxicology

Jun 14, 2013 Debra Cheung


To generate basic knowledge on the fate of toxic chemicals in the environment and how they impact living systems. To apply that knowledge toward rational understanding of risk associated with chemical exposure.


Currently, the department consists of nine Senate faculty (including two zero FTE courtesy appointments), two CE specialists and a Unit 18 lecturer. The total of 8.28 FTE is comprised of 2.35 I&R, 4.60 OR, 0.13 Unit 18 and 1.2 CE FTE. Two adjunct faculty carry out research and teaching in the department, and there are three affiliated research scientists. One of these scientists also holds a lecturer (WOS) position. Pre 1990-91 VERIP the department had 11.07 FTE. One emeritus has maintained his research and teaching activities within the department. By 2006, four senate faculty (including the two courtesy appointment faculty) and one CE specialist will have reached age 65 or beyond. This represents 0.6 I&R, 1.2 OR and 0.2CE FTE.

Major Programmatic Thrusts of the Department

Environmental Toxicology is concerned with the chemistry and biology of toxic substances in the environment. Chemical exposures are studied through chemical principles applied to environmental processes. Toxicological risk is evaluated through understanding of biological mechanisms. Agriculturally important pesticides and chemical pollutants are emphasized.

  • Molecular and Cellular Toxicology: effects of toxicants on gene expression, cell growth and differentiation, signal transduction pathways, gamete development and fertilization
  • Analytical and Environmental Chemistry: mass spectrometric and chromatographic methods for chemical analysis emphasizing pesticide residues and other environmental pollutants, biologically active compounds in foods, fate and metabolism of chemicals
  • Systems Toxicology: Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology, Aquatic Toxicology, Skin Toxicology, Courtesy Appointments - Neurotoxicology and Avian Ecotoxicology

Projected Programmatic Thrusts of the Department

  • Application of new advanced instrumentation to reveal chemical mechanisms of environmental fate, as well as chemical/biological interactions occurring at the molecular level
  • Molecular/genetic approaches to understand the sensitivity of human, animal and/or ecosystem to potential adverse effects

Program Impact/Ranking

No specific program rankings are available. Our excellence is demonstrated by the Center for Environmental Health Sciences, one of 10 nationally recognized centers funded by NIEHS, and an NIEHS Training Grant in Environmental Toxicology, the longest continuously funded program of its type in the nation. Recent faculty awards include an American Society for Mass Spectrometry Research Award, the Colgate-Palmolive Visiting Professorship in In Vitro Toxicology, Achievement Recognition Award by the Society for Pesticide Science and a USDA Group Honor Award for Excellence.

Extramural Grants and Gifts

In 1998-99, extramural direct cost expenditures totaled $4,129,334 or $577,529/FTE (-Unit 18 FTE). This level of funding has been maintained for at least six years and is derived primarily from NIH, USDA and state sources.

Teaching Programs of the Department

The undergraduate major in Environmental Toxicology was the first of its type in the nation. In 1998-99 there were 48 majors and 36 graduate students housed in the department. Student Credit Hours were 2,113. The number of undergraduate majors has recently decreased. However, the major is expected to rapidly double in size back to at least 1996-97 levels with the recent recruitment of new faculty and reorganization of the teaching program. The large number of graduate students reflects the excellent reputation of the faculty and the very high level of extramural support available.

Outreach/Extension Roles

Outreach/Extension projects encompass chemical residues in livestock, pesticide residues and biodegradation, pest management and regulatory toxicology. Specific funded programs are:

  • The IR-4 Leader Lab, supporting minor use pesticide registration in the Western Region
  • The Pesticide Impact Assessment Program (PIAP) and the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank (FARAD)
  • Office of the Statewide Pesticide coordinator, director of the Center for Pest Management Research and Extension (CPMRE)
  • The Toxicology Documentation Center, providing pesticide information resources The projected retirement of the Statewide Pesticide coordinator and director of CPMRE will impact expertise in regulatory issues relating to environmental toxicology

Potential for Collaborative Links to Other Units to Develop Clusters of Excellence

Previous academic plans from the Departments of Environmental Toxicology and Nutrition placed a developmental toxicologist as a high priority position (80 percentETX, 20 percent NUT). The two departments have launched an effort to retain Dr. Gary Cherr, a lecturer without salary in Environmental Toxicology and a reproductive and developmental toxicologist. This retention will not only strengthen both departments but also contribute to the campus-wide program in reproductive and developmental biology. A nutritional toxicologist with an 80 percent NUT:20 percent ETX split is a high priority position for Nutrition. In addition, collaborative and teaching links between ETX and LAWR could occur through new faculty with chemical expertise.

Positions Needed to Improve Research, Teaching and Extension Goals

  1. Environmental chemist; to study chemical mechanisms of environmental fate, reactivity and transport and to sustain our expertise in chemically related mechanisms in the environment.
  2. Biological chemist; to study chemical mechanisms of toxicant-macromolecule interaction using advanced analytical instrumentation and strengthen the interface between chemical and biological expertise in the department.
  3. Toxicogeneticist; to build a program of multiple gene screening technology and apply this technology to important environmental issues such as susceptible populations.
  4. Molecular ecotoxicologist; to use modern molecular techniques to understand mechanisms of adverse effects and risks posed by toxicants to ecosystems.
  5. CE specialist; in Risk and Regulatory Issues with partial I&R support. This is a critical need for teaching as well as public communication.
  6. Developmental toxicologist; to understand special vulnerabilities of gametes and developing embryos to toxicity effects associated with exposure to environmental stressors.
  7. Nutritional toxicologist; to determine the importance of nutrition in sensitivity to environmental chemicals.


Position 6 is a top priority for the department and for which FTE is under negotiation. If the FTE is not released the position will be top for recruitment under our strategic plan. (Position 7 is prioritized under the strategic plan from the department of Nutrition.) Position 1 represents the pressing need of the department to maintain the chemical expertise lost to the department by the retirement of faculty precipitated by VERIP. Positions 2 and 3 will replace the senate faculty projected to retire. Both positions #3 and #4 would be ideal under the campus-wide "ecosystem to human health" component of the Environment Initiative. Alternatively, both positions could also be justified under the Genomics Initiative. Position #5 replaces a retiring CE specialist. The OR FTE currently in the department could be reapportioned in order to balance growth-related I&R FTE. The current OR: I&R split is 65:35.

Projected Resource Needs and Strategies for Achieving

With anticipated retirements, space could be reconfigured to meet recruitment needs. The greatest need would be the availability of funds to ensure adequate resources and equipment for new faculty.

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