Environmental Health (EH)

Student KayakingStudents in this Field of Study are affiliated with the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The Department of Environmental Health pursues innovative research and offers interdisciplinary training, emphasizing the role of air, water, contaminants in food and consumer products, the built environment, and the workplace as critical determinants of public health. Faculty members study the pathogenesis and prevention of environmentally produced illnesses, injury, and disability, ergonomics and safety, climate change, occupational hygiene, environmental management, and sustainability, and are leaders in – and facilitators of – scientifically-based public health advances. Faculty research areas include a multi-disciplinary approach ranging from molecular and physiologic studies, to exposure assessment and control, to engineering, to epidemiology, to risk assessment, and even to policy evaluation.

The Department examines complex problems that require the contributions of many specialties. The faculty, research staff, and students reflect the multidisciplinary nature of the field and include chemists, engineers, epidemiologists, practitioners, occupational hygienists, urban planners, climatologists, applied mathematicians, physicians, nurses, physiologists, cell biologists, molecular biologists, and microbiologists.

Students can specialize in the following areas:

      • Environmental Health Bioengineering or Mechanisms of Disease: this area focuses on the biophysical interactions of cells, tissues, and organisms with each other and with environmental exposures and agents, and how these physical processes determine biologic responses in tissue development, repair, and disease. Mechanisms of Disease focuses on understanding the molecular and cellular basis for disease, especially those related to environmental exposures and agents.
      • Environmental Health Climate and Sustainability: Public Health and the health of our planet are inextricably linked and they can be mutually beneficial. However, our planet and public health are at risk. Climate change represents one of the most pressing issues of our time, affecting every nation and person. Sustainability is important to address and protect our planet. This program covers climate change, its effects on public health, and ways to mitigate the impacts through sustainability. Courses explore the effects of energy production and climate change on food, water, air, soil, food systems, e waste, environmental justice, and human health, through the lens of social justice and health equity. There will be an optional activity for direct community engagement and outreach.
      • Environmental Health Epidemiology/Environmental Epidemiology: this area focuses on identifying and measuring the influence of physical, chemical, and biological environmental factors on human disease in communities to provide scientific evidence for sound environmental and health policies.
      • Environmental Health Exposures/Exposure Assessment: this area emphasizes the chemical, physical, microbiological, and engineering aspects of environmental and occupational exposures and the identification and characterization of human and ecological exposures to environmental contaminants, and in modeling their fate and transport, to develop strategies to control environmental hazards, allergens, and pathogens
      • Environmental Health Justice: this area of study will focus on the disparities in environmental exposure and associated health outcomes, considering macro- and micro-level factors that impact communities and strategies for solution-oriented approaches, including discussion of research translation, implementation science, environmental health literacy, and other key topic areas. Theoretical frameworks, analytic approaches, and practical applications will be addressed in the context of sociohistorical processes, stakeholders, and agency that can be learned from and engaged with to improve environmental health inequities.
      • Environmental Health Molecular Epidemiology: this interdisciplinary area combines molecular and genetic laboratory assessments with epidemiology to clarify gene-environment interactions, as well as assessment of epigenetic, functional genomic, metabolomic, transcriptomic, and other “omic” technologies into environmental epidemiology study designs.
      • Environmental Health Molecular Physiology: this area emphasizes understanding the functional outcomes of environmental and agents exposures on cells, tissues, and organs, especially as disease manifestations
      • Environmental Health Occupational Health/Occupational Epidemiology: this area focuses on the anticipation, identification, evaluation, and quantification of diseases and injuries due to workplace exposures and to provide the scientific basis for occupational health and safety policies to control occupational hazards/assessing hazardous exposures in the workplace (chemical, physical, biological) in human population studies.
      • Environmental Health Risk Sciences: this area emphasizes integrated education in risk and decision science in the context of environmental health – including exposure assessment, epidemiology, and toxicology – built on the principles of decision analysis and intended to support and advance decision-making under uncertainty.

Required Courses for all Environmental Health Students (Must be taken for an ordinal grade)

              • EH 205 Human Physiology
              • EH 504 Principles of Toxicology
              • EH 510 Fundamentals of Human Environmental Exposure Assessment
              • EH 520 Research Design in Environmental Health
              • ID 215 Environmental and Occupational Epidemiology
              • RDS 500 Risk Assessment
              • HPM 548 Responsible Conduct of Research
              • An additional intermediate/advanced course in biostatistics/quantitative methods chosen with the approval of your advisor (5 Chan credits/4 Griffin GSAS credits).

In addition, EH students are expected to take coursework

              • that fulfill your Area of Specialization (major) requirements (at least 16 Griffin GSAS/20 Harvard Chan credits – ordinal grades only)
              • that fulfills the course requirements of your two (2) minors (each minor requires at least 8 Griffin GSAS/10 Harvard Chan credits – ordinal grades only)
              • that fulfills training grant requirements as relevant
              • any additional coursework recommended by your advisor, Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC), Associate Chair, Assistant Director of Faculty and Academic Affairs, or Academic Coordinator

The Environmental Health Handbook for PhD PHS Students is available by contacting Shaun Heller (shaunheller@hsph.harvard.edu).