AUG 22, 2019 7:30 AM PDT

Keynote Presentation: Health Impacts of Environmental Chemical Exposures

C.E. Credits: P.A.C.E. CE Florida CE
  • Director, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institutes of Health and the National Toxicology Program
      Linda S. Birnbaum, Ph.D., is director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health, and the National Toxicology Program (NTP). A board-certified toxicologist, Birnbaum has served as a federal scientist for nearly 39 years. Prior to her appointment as NIEHS and NTP Director in 2009, she spent 19 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where she directed the largest division focusing on environmental health research.

      Birnbaum has received many awards and recognitions. In 2016, she was awarded the North Carolina Award in Science. She was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, one of the highest honors in the fields of medicine and health. She was also elected to the Collegium Ramazzini and to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science, and received an honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Rochester and a Distinguished Alumna Award from the University of Illinois. She also received an Honorary Doctorate from Ben-Gurion University, Israel; the Surgeon General's Medallion 2014; and 14 Scientific and Technological Achievement Awards, which reflect the recommendations of EPA's external Science Advisory Board, for specific publications.

      Birnbaum is an active member of the scientific community. She was vice president of the International Union of Toxicology, the umbrella organization for toxicology societies in more than 50 countries, and former president of the Society of Toxicology, the largest professional organization of toxicologists in the world. She is the author of more than 800 peer-reviewed publications, book chapters, and reports. Birnbaum's own research focuses on the pharmacokinetic behavior of environmental chemicals, mechanisms of action of toxicants including endocrine disruption, and linking of real-world exposures to health effects. She is also an adjunct professor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, the Curriculum in Toxicology, and the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as in the Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program at Duke University.

      A native of New Jersey, Birnbaum received her M.S. and Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


    The incidence of conditions such as diabetes, obesity, asthma, and cancer have increased substantially in the past 30 years. The human genome has not changed in that period of time, so the environment is the likely cause of much of this increase. Our “environment” is very broad and includes industrial and agricultural chemicals, physical agents such as heat and radiation, food and nutrients, prescription drugs, by-products of combustion and industrial processes (e.g., dioxin), lifestyle choices (including substance abuse), social and economic factors, infectious agents, and the microbiome (i.e., gut flora). We cannot understand the full etiology of disease without a more complete understanding of the role of the environment in disease. In the past, basic toxicology focused on the simple dichotomy of toxic versus nontoxic, which implies that all substances can be harmful at high doses while at some lower dose, no harm is done. However, we now know that some environmental chemicals can create physiologically relevant effects at low doses, and these effects can have a substantial impact on our health. Every individual responds differently to the myriad of environmental stressors to which we are exposed.  Developing a robust understanding of the sources and magnitude of that variability is essential to inform risk-based decision making within individual, community and regulatory contexts. The list of chemicals that can cause altered developmental programming as well as the list of diseases shown to be affected by environmental exposures continues to expand.  The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is one of the 27 research institutes and centers that comprise the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and its mission is to discover how the environment affects people in order to promote healthier lives. NIEHS continues to support research focused on mechanisms by which environmental exposures lead to increased risk of disease, the mechanisms behind the long latency and multigenerational effects, as well as the development of biomarkers of exposure and disease susceptibility which can be used to aid in disease prevention and intervention.  

    Learning Objectives: 

    1. Understand the wide range of environmental chemical exposures and how they may impact our health,   
    2. Recognize the role of individual varibility in health related responses, and
    3. Identify opportunities to modify our environment to reduce potentially harmful exposures.  

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    Keynote Presentation: Health Impacts of Environmental Chemical Exposures

    C.E. Credits: P.A.C.E. CE Florida CE


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