Human activities and modern industry have released large quantities of heavy metals and more than 87,000 synthetic organic compounds to the global environment. When present in the human body, these environmental toxicants have been linked to many negative health effects, such as the global pandemic of neurocognitive deficits in children, increased risks of cardiovascular disease, and a rapid rise in immune disorders. However, the links between human activities that release environmental toxicants and their adverse impacts on health have not been well established because chemical cycling through the physical environment and food webs is not well understood. Disciplinary boundaries between environmental chemistry, ecology and epidemiology have made it challenging to forecast how changes in emissions of toxicants will affect human and ecological health. This is particularly true for exposures from drinking water and seafood, which are mediated by aquatic environments. The result of this dearth of knowledge has been weak regulations and limited protection of public health. Our work aims to address this gap through interdisciplinary investigations of the exposure pathway for toxicants.




Our field and lab research focuses on understanding relationships between environmental properties (e.g., DOC, temperature, productivity) and chemical speciation/bioavailabilty of trace metals and organic compounds. We measure reaction rates and concentrations in environmental samples that can be used to parameterize and evaluate our modeling simulations. We use a variety of instruments in our lab including HPLC-MS/MS, ICP-MS, and MC-ICP-MS.

We use environmental models to investigate the broader spatial and temporal implications of relationships measured in the field and to synthesize multi-disciplinary research. Our models vary in complexity from statistical tools and relatively simple geochemical box models to global 3-D simulations of atmospheric and ocean circulation and ecology. We also model bioaccumulation of contaminants in aquatic food webs and collaborate with fisheries scientists to link our models to aquatic life.

We use food-frequency questionnaires (FFQs) and probabilistic exposure simulations integrated with toxicokinetic (TK) models to estimate human exposures to contaminants. We also measure human biomarkers of exposure (hair, blood). We work closely with environmental epidemiologists looking at dose-response relationships to quantify present risks and link this information with environmental models to help anticipate public health impacts of climate change and regulations.


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Sunderland Lab

Group Administrator: Brenda Mathieu

Address: 29 Oxford Street, Cambridge MA 02138

E-mail:  bmathieu [at]

Phone: +1 (617) 496-5745

Fax: +1 (617) 495-4551