Methodologic Frontiers in Environmental Epidemiology
Rothman, K. (1993). Methodologic Frontiers in Environmental Epidemiology. Environmental Health Perspectives, 101, 19-21.
Environmental epidemiology comprises the epidemiologic study of those environmental factors that are outside the immediate control of the individual. Exposures of interest to environmental epidemiologists include air pollution, water pollution, occupational exposure to physical and chemical agents, as well as psychosocial elements of environmental concern. The main methodologic problem in environmental epidemiology is exposure assessment, a problem that extends through all of epidemiologic research but looms as a towering obstacle in environmental epidemiology. One of the most promising developments in improving exposure assessment in environmental epidemiology is to find exposure biomarkers, which could serve as built-in dosimeters that reflect the biologic footprint left behind by environmental exposures. Beyond exposure assessment, epidemiologists studying environmental exposures face the difficulty of studying small effects that may be distorted by confounding that eludes easy control. This challenge may prompt reliance on new study designs, such as two-stage designs in which exposure and disease information are collected in the first stage, and covariate information is collected on a subset of subjects in state two. While the analytic methods already available for environmental epidemiology are powerful, analytic methods for ecologic studies need further development. This workshop outlines the range of methodologic issues that environmental epidemiologists must address so that their work meets the goals set by scientists and society at large