Environmental and Occupational Health focuses on both positive and negative health effects of exposure to airborne chemicals in home, work, and outdoor environments. Experimental, epidemiological, and modeling approaches evaluate the impact of airborne chemicals on the chemical senses in occupational and community settings.
Occupational health is a cross-disciplinary area concerned with protecting the safety, health and welfare of people engaged in work or employment. As a secondary effect, discoveries may also protect co-workers, family members, employers, customers, suppliers, nearby communities, and other members of the public who are affected by the workplace environment.
This area of research may involve interactions among many subject areas, including occupational medicine, occupational (or industrial) hygiene, public health, safety engineering, chemistry, health physics, ergonomics, toxicology, epidemiology, environmental health, industrial relations, public policy, sociology, and occupational health psychology.
At Monell, research in occupational health has focused on developing methodologies to evaluate the irritancy of workplace chemicals and establishment of thresholds for irritation. Data from these studies have been used to provide guidance to U.S and international regulatory agencies charged with setting occupational exposure limits.
Studies of the upper airway response of chemically-exposed workers have provided data to either support or amend current workplace regulatory limits. These studies take a multi-disciplinary approach, evaluating both the susceptibility of the individual and also the potential toxicity of the chemical. With regard to the former, modeling studies of chemical transport in individualized geometric models of the human nose are used to predict the amount and location of chemical deposition. These studies estimate the impact of chemicals on olfactory and trigeminal function under various conditions. Studies evaluating an individual’s capacity to metabolize airborne chemicals in the nasal mucosa, thus rendering them less toxic, are planned.
Environmental health includes both the direct pathological effects of chemicals and the health-related effects (often indirect) of the perception of risk and harm from those exposures.
Studies have evaluated the chemosensory impact of exposure to industry emissions on community residents, as well as the impact that beliefs about toxicity of emissions can have on residents’ stress responses and overall well-being. The interaction of direct and psychological effects may be additionally enhanced in susceptible populations such as asthmatics; current studies are attempting to understand the degree to which these factors play a role in eliciting symptoms among those with asthma or other respiratory health issues.
Past and current studies in Environmental and Occupational Health include:
• Chemosensory changes in veterinary students exposed to formaldehyde
• Temporal integration of the intensity of airborne irritants
• Symptom perception among asthmatics exposed to odorous chemicals
• The role of expectation in detection of airborne aromatics in paint
• Chemosensory dysfunction following exposure at the WTC site
• Establishment of thresholds for odor vs. irritation for various chemicals
• The long-term impact of stress-associated responses to odors
• The benefits of fragrance: conditioned and intrinsic relaxation to odors