Embedded in the committee’s vision is the recognition of the integrative nature of human and environmental systems. There are no boundaries between organisms (including humans) and their environment or between the internal environment of the human body and the external environment. Historically, exposure research has focused on discrete exposures—in either external or internal environments, concentrating on effects from sources on biologic systems, either human or ecologic—one stressor at a time. As a result, tools and methods evolved, and resources were channeled to address specific measures.
To fulfill its vision, the committee has identified the following overarching research needs in exposure science:
• Characterizing exposures quickly and cost-effectively at multiple levels of integration—including time, space, and biologic scales—and for multiple and cumulative stressors.
• Scaling up methods and techniques to detect exposure in large human and ecologic populations of concern.
The broader availability and ease of use of technologies, including sensor, analytic, bioinformatic, and computational technologies, have given rise to a substantial profusion of data and an overall democratization of the collection and availability of exposure information. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Human and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) provides one of the most revealing snapshots of human exposures to over 200 environmental chemicals through the use of biomonitoring (CDC 2011). The collaboration between CDC and national and international organizations quickly expanded the breadth and depth of data available throughout populations and subpopulations (NRC 2006). That rapid progress was predicated on the availability of better analytic methods and a national commitment to generate such “baseline” data.
With the availability of the emerging measurement and informatics technologies, the committee sees both the demand and the opportunity for conducting strategic data-gathering efforts to answer a multitude of environmental-exposure questions. Such efforts could involve deploying large numbers of environmental sensors and networking technologies and collecting biomonitoring samples in statistically representative populations. The resulting data could be integrated with informatics capabilities for collection, storing, and analyzing the information gathered and used to test environmental-health-related hypotheses or to develop exposure-reduction strategies.
The committee recognizes that realizing its vision requires an iterative approach that will initially develop and implement innovative tools to meet the urgent demands for exposure information today while establishing the infrastructure, including educational opportunities and study sections devoted to research, needed to transform the science fully over the next 20 years. This chapter describes a pragmatic approach to realizing the vision for exposure science in the 21st century whereby resources are deployed to generate and analyze the