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Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Aug;118(8):1081-90. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0901634. Epub 2010 Mar 22.

Exposure science: a view of the past and milestones for the future.

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  • 1Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Piscataway, New Jersey, USA.



The study of human exposure to environmental toxicants has evolved as a scientific field over the past 30 years.


This review provides a historical perspective on the growth of exposure science as a field, with some emphasis on the results from initial observational studies in obtaining information needed for generating hypotheses on significant human contact with environmental agents, testing the performance of models, and reducing exposures to protect public health.


Advances in activity pattern and behavioral research that established a suite of variables needed to accurately define contact and factors that influence contact are also discussed. The identification and characterization of these factors have played a pivotal role in the growth of the field and in developing exposure reduction strategies. Answers to two key questions on the relevance and fundamental value of exposure science to the fields of environmental health and risk management are presented as a path forward: a) What does one do with such exposure information? b) What roles does exposure science play in situations beyond observational analyses and interpretation?


The discussion identifies the need for more focused use of observational studies of exposure for epidemiologic analyses. Further, the introduction and use of new tools and approaches for hypothesis testing that can improve the use of exposure science in prevention research for risk management is needed to affect the source-to-effect continuum. A major restructuring of the field is not required to achieve innovation. However, additional resources for training and education are required to ensure that the potential for exposure science to play a central role in reducing and preventing excess risk within environmental/occupational health is achieved.

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