EPA Science Matters Newsletter: Ask a Scientist
Published March 2013
Q & A with Dr. Tina Bahadori
Tina Bahadori, Sc. D. leads EPA's Chemical Safety for Sustainability research program. She has extensive expertise developing and managing research programs that integrate exposure and health sciences. She holds a doctorate in Environmental Science and Engineering from the Harvard School of Public Health. From MIT, she holds a Master of Science in Chemical Engineering and Technology and Policy, as well as Bachelor of Science degrees in Chemical Engineering and in Humanities. Prior to coming to EPA, Dr. Bahadori was Managing Director for the American Chemistry Council's Long Range Research Initiative.
Science Matters: Can you give us a brief overview of the Chemical Safety for Sustainability (CSS) Research program?
Tina Bahadori: CSS is one of six national research programs in the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. The goal of our research is to develop approaches that not only let you understand the impacts of chemicals and materials in commerce but also develop techniques to design future materials that enhance the benefits while minimizing the risk to society and the environment. We want to enable innovation and innovative products while preserving and sustaining our environment for future generations.
SM: What role does EPA play in the larger scientific field of chemical safety research?
TB: EPA’s chemical safety research is committed to advancing the scientific understanding of the potential impacts of chemicals, materials, and products on human health and the environment. The research is identifying and filling gaps to better understand chemical hazards across all life stages, using innovative approaches to better understand consumers’ exposures to chemicals, improving methods used to assess associated risks, and supporting the design of safer chemicals from synthesis to use to disposal. EPA’s research anticipates the future needs of chemical safety research while also providing the research needed to make immediate decisions about high profile chemical related issues.
SM: There is a lot of talk about sustainable chemistry – what is it?
TB: Much of the innovative computational science developed to assess chemical risks can also be applied to proactively select or design new and safer materials. This proactive approach can provide the needed thinking and measures to minimize – or eliminate – the environmental and human health impacts associated with the production, use, and disposal of chemicals.
These approaches apply to any and all materials, inorganic and organic compounds, and individual chemicals or mixtures of chemicals. Advances resulting from this research could replace rare, toxic, and expensive chemicals with earth abundant, benign, and renewable alternatives. This research will result in the design of safer chemicals and more sustainable processes and pathways that consume less fresh water, generate less waste, and use less energy. These new approaches will minimize hazards that arise not only from a chemical’s structure and intended use, but also from its synthesis, production, consumption, reuse, and disposal.
SM: What other types of chemical safety research are EPA scientists doing?
TB: EPA’s scientists are studying many other important areas of chemicals safety. For example, scientists are improving the understanding of chemical behaviors by determining common characteristics of chemicals (or chemical properties) that can impact toxicity and exposure potential. We also collaborate with other research partners to integrate a diversity of scientific disciplines to develop chemical prioritization and predictive methods to evaluate and anticipate chemical risks. Our research also helps EPA better protect human health and the environment by studying more ubiquitous chemicals such as PCBs. This additional research combined with our focus on sustainable chemicals provides more data to inform decisions about chemicals. We are committed to making all of our chemical safety research transparent and accessible to those who want to use it to inform their own chemical safety research and assessments.
SM: Lastly, what is the future of Chemical Safety Research at EPA?
TB: This is a very exciting time for chemical safety research everywhere. Converging advances in biology, biotechnology, informatics, computational chemistry, and exposure science can transform the future of chemical safety sciences, significantly enabling innovations in sustainable chemistry, and provide new tools to model and understand how chemicals interact with biological systems. There is consensus that these sciences are providing the tools needed to tackle the complexity of environmental health, including complex issues such as understanding the importance of exposures to unborn children in the womb and in early life, assessing the effects of exposures to mixtures or multiple exposures in the course of a lifetime, and addressing the variability and diversity we observe in populations. To get there, we need to invest in new approaches to share data and knowledge to power the transdisciplinary research that is needed to make this future possible.