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Microbiological and Chemical Exposure Assessment


To understand risks chemicals and microbes in our environments pose to human health, we first must understand how we’re exposed to them. EPA scientists study the chemicals and microbes in drinking water, air, and our homes to determine how we come into contact with these potentially-hazardous contaminants every day. They track these contaminants from their sources and determine the ways they enter our day-to-day environments, finding the routes they take to human exposure.

Research Projects

Using mussels to detect microbial contamination of ambient water
Mussels and other bivalves are very efficient natural filtration devices that can filter up to 5 liters of water per hour to feed on microscopic plants and nutrients in water. EPA scientists are taking advantage of this ability by developing a low cost and effective concentration method using native and invasive species, like Blue mussels and Asian clams to collect an array of microbial pathogens from water.

Developing methods to detect viruses in water
Viruses, such as enteroviruses and noroviruses, can spread in groundwater systems but are difficult to detect. EPA scientists have developed a way to quickly screen water for these contaminants.

Analytical methods for measuring drinking water contaminants
Many of the unregulated contaminants in drinking water are difficult to detect with traditional testing methods. EPA scientists are using cutting-edge technology to develop new ways of testing water for these chemicals.

How common are contaminants in treated and untreated drinking water?
Drinking water has the potential to contain traces of unregulated contaminants. To develop strategies for protecting human health, EPA needs to understand the prevalence of these contaminants in both treated and untreated drinking water. Improvements in analytical instrumentation now allow scientists to measure pollutants at very low concentrations. EPA scientists are conducting research to understand just how common these contaminants are.

Saliva-based measurement method for detecting exposure to waterborne pathogens
Exposure scientists at EPA have developed a quick, inexpensive method to sample swimmers’ saliva to understand links between exposure to pathogens in water and human health. Using swabs of saliva, which can be collected quickly and non-invasively, scientists can look at specific antibodies created by the immune system in response to exposure to certain microbes.

Developing and validating same-day method for monitoring recreational waters
Traditional methods of recreational water testing require at least 24 hours for results, which means beach managers may not know to issue swimming advisories until after a bacterial outbreak. A new method developed by EPA scientists cuts the laboratory testing time down to just four hours.

Understanding risks from pathogens in piped water systems
Legionella bacteria can grow in piped water systems and lead to respiratory infections in humans. EPA scientists are studying how these bacteria spread in plumbing systems, and how to reduce human exposure to them.

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