THE World Around Me
Public health laboratory scientists routinely look for contaminants in air, soil, food, water, or toys that can have a serious health impact on humans, livestock, and pets. These can include chemical agents such as heavy metals, organics, toxins, or infectious agents. Human or animal exposure to such toxic agents can be detected through testing of body fluids through a process known as Biomonitoring.
Environmental health is an essential component of public health, and its main focus is to study how the environment is impacting our lives and health. Environmental contaminants can cause severe disease in humans so monitoring and controlling these contaminants can prevent adverse effects on public health. Public health laboratory scientists look for contaminants in the environment such as in drinking water, soil, air, toys, or food. They can also look at humans to see if they have been exposed to environmental chemicals. This is known as BIOMONITORING. Biomonitoring is a tool public health laboratory scientists use to assess people’s exposure to environmental chemicals by testing the levels of these chemicals or their metabolites in human specimens such as blood, urine, or hair.
The data generated by public health laboratory scientists are used to measure and track changes in chemical exposure over time, identify groups that are highly exposed to chemicals/toxins, and inform and evaluate programs and policies to reduce exposures. Below are a few examples in which public health laboratory scientists play a role in protecting the well-being and safety of the public from contaminants in the environment.
Lesson Plans & Experiments
Get the Lead Out
Learning and Teaching About the Environment - EPA
The Lead Placemat: Understanding Lead Exposure - CDC
Water Filtration - EPA
Activity 1: History of Radiation Protection (PDF) - EPA
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Games & Apps
Welcome to RadTown USA - EPA
- This is a short video (1:27) explaining the role that public health laboratory scientists play in the monitoring of environmental organic pollutants of fresh water sources.
Forensic Files “Death by Poison: Sunday’s Wake”
- After moving with her family from Sudan to the United States, a little girl becomes ill with flu-like symptoms and dies. The investigation reveals that the little girl died of extremely high levels of lead poisoning (21:38).
If you want to know more...
- This site describes biomonitoring and how public health laboratory scientists use biomonitoring to assess people’s exposure to toxic substances and for responding to serious environmental public health issues.