State Hygienic Lab receives CDC funding for new statewide biomonitoring program

By Leslie Revaux

Published on August 26, 2019

A new project led by the State Hygienic Lab will analyze the presence of environmental hazards in well water and households across the state.

The award, which includes $728,016 in funding for the first year of the project, is one of six projects funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for statewide biomonitoring programs.

CPH Contributors to Biomonitoring Program


  • Bill Field, professor of occupational and environmental health, and Wei Bao, assistant professor of epidemiology, will serve as co-investigators of the CDC-funded grant entitled Iowa Environmental Hazard Exposure Assessment through Biomonitoring Surveillance.
  • Funding of the grant builds, in part, on the work of the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy’s Neonicotinoid Collaboratory led by Field and furthers one of the primary goals of the collaboratory: “to develop an expandable network of collaborators and stakeholders to facilitate surveillance, research, education, and future policy development to identify and understand human exposure and health risks from neonicotinoid insecticides.”
  • The new grant also builds on Bao’s previous research on toxic metals and endocrine disruptors supported by seed funds from the College of Public Health’s New Faculty Research Award, the UI Environmental Health Sciences Research Center (EHSRC), and the UI Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC).
  • Hans-Joachim Lehmler, professor of occupational and environmental health, and Paul Romitti, professor of epidemiology, serve on the advisory board for this grant.
  • Darrin Thompson, doctoral fellow in occupational and environmental health, will be involved in the surveillance of neonicotinoid insecticides. Thompson also serves as the associate director of CHEEC.
  • Buyun Liu, postdoctoral research scholar in epidemiology, will be involved in data analysis of the surveillance project. She is the principal investigator of bisphenols-related pilot grants from the EHSRC.

Biomonitoring is the direct measurement of environmental chemicals in people’s blood and urine, indicating the amount of chemical that actually enters the body from all environmental sources. Iowa’s new biomonitoring program will examine three hazard categories: naturally occurring contaminants, agricultural chemicals, and industrial chemicals.

“Biomonitoring data can inform important public health decisions,” said Susie Dai, environmental lab director at the State Hygienic Lab. “By launching a new statewide biomonitoring program, we will be better positioned to access exposures of concern in Iowa communities and identify at-risk populations.”

The first of two studies that Dai’s team will conduct will measure the presence of naturally occurring contaminants such as metals, industrial chemicals such as endocrine disruptors, and neonicotinoid insecticides in well water, and in individuals who drink well water, in rural areas of the state.

Neonicotinoids are used as insecticides to treat crops such as corn and soybeans, and to control fleas and lice in livestock and pets. Previous research has demonstrated that neonicotinoids are harmful to bumblebees, and potentially other pollinators.

The second study will measure levels of the endocrine disruptor Bisphenol A (BPA) and substitutes in pregnant women in the state. BPA is often used as a base material to produce polycarbonate plastic, and previous studies have indicated that it is a potential disruptor of the endocrine systems in humans and animals. Substitutes such as bisphenol S and bisphenol F are often used in “BPA-free” products, and the effects on pregnancy are largely unknown. “Studying the levels of BPA and substitutes in a high-risk population presents a unique opportunity to assess Iowan’s exposure risks,” said Dai.

“The expanded biomonitoring program in Iowa will enable the State Hygienic Laboratory and the local public health departments to provide accurate and high-quality data that can inform state and local decision-makers,” said Michael Pentella, director of the State Hygienic Laboratory. “The funds will also be used to provide important training to laboratory staff members and local public health professionals.”

The project is a collaboration between the State Hygienic Lab with the Iowa Department of Public Health, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, University of Iowa College of Public Health, Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination, Iowa Poison Center, Iowa Criminal Investigation Lab, and ten local health departments.

A version of this story was originally published by the UI Office of the Vice President for Research.