Faculty Research

Department of Environmental and Occupational Health faculty members primarily focus their research efforts on respiratory and cardiovascular toxicology, free radical biochemical toxicology, computational and risk assessment approaches to environmental health, and molecular mechanisms of genomic instability associated with cancer and aging.

Additional research strengths include...

  • effects of low levels of arsenic in drinking water and food
  • public health implications of Marcellus Shale drilling

The following are examples of standout funded faculty research in each of these areas.

Effects of Arsenic Levels in Water and Food

Among other areas, professor Aaron Barchowsky is researching the impact of low levels of the environmental contaminant arsenic in drinking water and how it causes blood vessels to change their appearance, with the goal being to establish global standards. According to Pitt Public Health studies, arsenic is detrimental to cardiovascular health as well as brain development and is associated with cancer and other chronic diseases. Pitt Public Health has become a national leader in demonstrating the negative effects of arsenic, and this research could lead to strategies that would modify people’s susceptibility to this dangerous contaminant, thereby helping to prevent arsenic-related cardiovascular disease.

Following the 2012 release of the results of a Consumer Reports study, there was increased concern about levels of arsenic in rice, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette relied on Barchowsky’s expertise. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) then announced it was conducting its own study, the results of which it released in April 2013. Based on the data and scientific literature, the FDA is not recommending that consumers change their consumption of rice and rice products.

Read the Post-Gazette article.

Implications of Marcellus Shale Drilling

Along with the staff of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities, emeritus professor Bernard D. Goldstein, former dean of Pitt Public Health, has focused his recent research on the public health implications of drilling the Marcellus Shale. He says his experience has shown that unless accurate scientific measures are used to define the key policy issues of Marcellus Shale related to human health, those issues will ultimately be decided by court rulings on lawsuits brought by the public. If that happens, he said, the cost to industry will be “into the billions of dollars.” The Marcellus Shale highlights one of the key issues for public health: the ethics of telling the truth to power. In medicine, a physician tells the truth to a single patient. But in public health, Goldstein said, you’re telling truth to “this power that’s the state health department, the university leadership, whomever it is. You’re dealing in public health with a lot of issues that bring up ethical constraints and a lot of issues about who’s really in power.”

Learn more about this research.

Learn more about our faculty members’ individual areas of interest.