Environmental Health Science (PhD)

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Program Description

Our comprehensive PhD training program in Environmental Health Science combines didactics and research. The didactic curriculum offers a solid foundation in relevant basic sciences, while research training gives students the opportunity to design, conduct, and interpret studies that address specific scientific issues in environmental health disciplines.

The diversity of research led by our investigators allows trainees to develop skills using various investigatory approaches. We provide advanced training in many scientific disciplines in environmental health, focusing on major health problems such as cancer, respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, and metabolic syndromes including diabetes/obesity, with emphasis on genetic and epigenetic effects of environmental pollutants and toxicants.

Our trainees acquire specialized knowledge in environmental health areas including exposure assessment and health effects, molecular toxicology and carcinogenesis, and systemic toxicology. Our integrated approach offers perspectives on the interrelationships between environmental health problems and competence in basic science in the areas noted above.

Areas of Study

Exposure Assessment and Health Effects

The exposure assessment and health effects area of study is focused on the scientific basis for the anticipation, identification, evaluation, and control of health effects from human exposure to environmental pollutants. Most research projects are aimed at identifying factors that play significant roles in the causation and exacerbation of disease associated with inhalation exposure to air contaminants in both occupational and general community settings.

Research may include the study of physical agents in the environment, such as particulate air pollution (e.g. PM 2.5). Trainees can participate in studies that include designing strategies for the evaluation and measurements of population exposure and developing new methods for measuring the air concentrations of toxic agents; experiments and theoretical modeling to evaluate the dose that people receive when they inhale airborne toxicants; and field studies and epidemiological analyses of exposure–response relationships in natural populations, with recent emphasis on community-based research.

Molecular Toxicology and Carcinogenesis

In the molecular toxicology and carcinogenesis area of study, trainees focus on the underlying molecular mechanisms by which environmental agents act to disrupt normal biological function, leading to carcinogenesis and genetic susceptibility to disease.

Research in this area of study is broad and involves studying the genetic and epigenetic effects on gene expression and perturbations of cellular signaling pathways and basic carcinogenesis studies in vivo. Trainees can conduct research in areas including the chemistry of carcinogen–DNA interactions, DNA damage, DNA repair, DNA methylation, mutagenesis, epigenetic gene silencing, cell cycle and mitosis controls, cell growth control and apoptosis, signal transduction, mechanisms of cellular resistance, biological parameters of tumor progression and chemoprevention, biomarkers of exposure, and genetic polymorphisms in exposed human and non-human populations. These projects often involve taking multiple approaches from scientific disciplines such as organic chemistry, cell biology, molecular biology, and experimental pathology.

Research also evaluates environmental chemicals and mitigating or cooperative lifestyle factors such as diet. The molecular toxicology of metals is a particular research strength of this program.

Systemic Toxicology

In the systemic toxicology area of study, trainees focus on understanding the biological responses that result from exposure to environmental chemicals, the physiologic and pathologic mechanisms underlying these responses, and their relationships to disease. Research approaches extend from the molecular to the whole organismic level.

The ability to examine effects of chemical pollutant exposure at multiple investigatory levels and using in vivo and in vitro exposure methodologies allows for the development of an integrated, mechanistic evaluation of toxicant action and disease pathogenesis.

Graduate studies in this area of study are most often focused on, but not limited to, a sub-area in inhalation toxicology. 


All applicants to the Graduate School of Arts and Science (GSAS) are required to submit the general application requirements, which include:

See Environmental Health Sciences for admission requirements and instructions specific to this program.