As the collaborative partnerships among agencies are expanded, there will be opportunities to share research results, to demonstrate the value of exposure-science research to other agencies and decision-makers, and to generate additional resources. The committee recommends that intramural and extramural programs in EPA, NIEHS, the Department of Defense, and other agencies that advance exposure-science research be supported as the value of the research and the need for exposure information become more apparent.
Much of the human-based research in environmental-health sciences is funded by NIH. However, none of the existing study sections that review grant applications has substantial expertise in exposure science, and most study sections are organized around disease processes. In light of that and the role that an understanding of environmental exposures can play in disease prevention, a rethinking of how NIH study sections are organized that incorporates a greater focus on exposure science would allow a core group of experts to foster the objectives of exposure-science research. In addition, an increase in collaborations between agencies should be explored; for example, collaborations between EPA, NIEHS, and NSF could support integrative research between ecosystem and human-health approaches in exposure science. However, many other agencies engaged in exposure-science research could be included in the collaborations.
Because of the need to understand and prevent harmful exposures and risks in our society, EPA and NIEHS need to be able to work with the academic community to conduct exposure studies in all populations, particularly among the most vulnerable (for example, the elderly, children, and the infirm), under appropriate ethical guidelines.
The effective implementation of the committee’s vision will depend on development and cultivation of scientists, engineers, and technical experts with experience in multiple fields to educate the next generation of exposure scientists and to provide opportunities for members of other fields to cross-train in the techniques and models used to analyze and collect exposure data. Exposure scientists will need the skills to collaborate closely with other fields of expertise, including engineers, epidemiologists, molecular and system biologists, clinicians, statisticians, and social scientists. To achieve that, the committee considers that the following are needed:
• An increase in the number of academic predoctoral and postdoctoral training programs in exposure science throughout the U.S. supported by training grants. NIEHS currently funds one training grant in exposure science; additional grants are needed.
• Short-term training and certification programs in exposure science for midcareer scientists in related fields.