One of our founding ISES members, Dr. Tom McKone, shares his insights from the past 30 years of progress in exposure science, and his thoughts on the future of the field and our Society:
When I became one of the first members of ISES in 1989, the year it was founded as the International Society of Exposure Analysis, exposure science was an emerging research field with somewhat limited scope. At that time there was a strong focus on air pollution, both indoors and outdoors (but mainly outdoors), on measurements, and some growing interest in human activities as they related to modifying exposures relative to ambient measurements. But overall we lacked the experimental and modeling tools to connect emissions of pollutants and toxic compounds to health damages.
Over the last 30 years Exposure Science expanded to give us much a larger portfolio of tools to track sources of harmful stressors (chemicals, physical agents, and biological agents) through complex pathways of transport and transformation to an exposure event. An exposure event brings a stressor into contact with a receptor of interest–including humans and other living organisms, ecosystems, crops, important resources (lakes, forests, etc.) and even the built environment. For living organisms, exposures (the contact event) can be internal or external. Our experimental tools have not only become more precise, but now allow us to get a better picture of cumulative intake and exposure sources. We have learned so much more about indoor exposures, food pathway exposures, children’s exposures, secondary exposures to tobacco product emissions, persistent pollutants, global transport processes, and more. The power of exposure science has grown through the introduction of tools and concepts that include intake fraction, the exposome, biomonitoring, metabolomics, source-receptor mapping, time-activity monitoring, personal sensors, and more. Our models have grown in sophistication and accuracy to address multi-pathway, multimedia cumulative intake; uncertainty and variability; statistical sensitivity analyses; life-cycle impact assessment, and more,
The future is very promising and ISES will be the home for researchers on the frontiers of exposure science. In the 2012 National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine report “Exposure Science in the 21st Century”, the authors conclude that exposure science has moved from addressing discrete exposures to one stressor at a time to a more integrated approach. This report offers confidence that the science will continue to expand our ability to track exposures from source to dose; on multiple levels of integration (time, space, and biologic scale); to multiple stressors, at scales that go from molecular systems to individuals, populations, and ecosystems; and oriented toward the needs of multiple stakeholders.