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Focus Areas

Contaminants of Concern

Addressing the risks of exposure to toxic substances to improve human health and the environment

What are contaminants of concern?

Contaminants of concern are potentially hazardous chemicals and substances that are increasingly observed in the environment, personal care products, and pharmaceuticals. The manufacturing, processing, distribution, use, and disposal of commercial and industrial chemicals—including nanomaterials—can pose significant threats to human health and the environment. Naturally occurring microbial substances and pathogens can also pose similar risks.

Identifying and analyzing contaminants of concern

As contaminants of concern become increasingly present in the environment and in consumer products, it’s important to take steps to identify and analyze them. Additionally, it’s vital to mitigate the release of chemicals into the environment and to educate communities on how to limit their exposure and risk.

Through sample collection, research methodologies, state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, and models, we can support clients with data-driven decision analysis to characterize multimedia, multi-pathway exposures and human and environmental health impacts.

Minimizing risk of exposure to contaminants 

To understand the risk of exposure to a substance or contaminant, it is important to understand sources of exposure along with environmental and behavioral factors that increase exposure. By linking environmental and human health problems to contaminant exposures, we can identify and implement reasonable risk mitigation strategies, including looking for viable, nontoxic alternatives, advocating for policy change, cleaning up infrastructure, treating air, water, and soil quality, and more.

Providing equitable protection for all communities from contaminants

The benefits of a clean environment and the burdens of pollution are not shared equitably in society. Considering the risks of exposure to harmful contaminants, it’s important to focus on how best to protect all people and all communities—especially individuals from racial and ethnic minorities, economically disadvantaged people, and vulnerable communities. Fenceline communities are located near industrial chemical manufacturing or waste management facilities and are prone to higher rates of chemical exposures and disproportionate adverse health outcomes.

Best practices for working with communities on contaminants of concern include centering community-based research and using participatory science approaches. Partnerships like NCCU-RTI CARES help communities address disparities with approaches that are inclusive, culturally appropriate, and community-focused, relying heavily on the input of local leaders and grassroots organizers.