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Exposure Science in the 21st Century Federal Working Group

The Exposure Science in the 21st Century (ES21) Federal Working Group is a cross-government effort to identify efficiencies and collaborative opportunities in the area of exposure science. The group consists of representatives from more than 20 different federal organizations who share an interest in exposure science research and development.

Exposure research encompasses a range of areas, from the lab to field studies.Exposure science is critical for predicting, preventing, and reducing human health and ecosystem risks. It is instrumental in helping to:

  • Forecast, prevent, and mitigate exposures;
  • Identify populations that have high exposures;
  • Assess and manage human health and ecosystem risks;
  • Protect vulnerable and susceptible populations; and
  • Evaluate sustainable solutions to environmental problems.

In 2012, the National Academy of Sciences released a report titled Exposure Science in the 21st Century: A Vision and Strategy. A major recommendation from this report was to encourage new collaborations and enhance existing partnerships within and across the federal government.

Reports issued by the ES21 Federal Working Group:


This subgroup is assessing ongoing biomonitoring strategies to identify refinements may be necessary to make them more effective and accurate. The workgroup is charged with reviewing the National Research Council recommendations and developing: options for new biomonitoring approaches that may be more useful than traditional approaches and improvements to traditional biomonitoring approaches with a specific focus on greater utilization of biomonitoring to assess exposure and risk.

Community Engagement and Citizen Science 
This subgroup is focusing on developing strategies to engage communities in furthering the development of exposure science. The National Research Council has made clear that “to maintain public confidence in the integrity of exposure science, innovative forms of public engagement are required.” The “public” is both the user and the generator of exposure data.

Data Management 
This subgroup is reviewing the current status of policies and procedures associated with exposure data collection, analysis and sharing. They are also identifying critical needs and opportunities to partner across the government with the goal of establishing a common set of standard operating procedures that can facilitate the sharing and utilization of existing and future exposure data.

Environmental Monitoring
Environmental monitoring allows the characterization and understanding of the transport, fate, and biologically-meaningful impacts of a stressor in a variety of ecosystems. This subgroup will explore options for novel environmental monitoring approaches that enable faster identification of stressors, exposure-related environmental monitoring that will help to identify knowledge gaps, and monitoring and collection of data, in a variety of ecological and human settings, which contribute to the development of exposure science decision-making tools.

This subgroup is assessing current models to determine what refinements are needed to make them more effective. This group is also charged with reviewing the recommendations of the National Research Council, and developing options for new modeling approaches that may be more effective than older approaches. Exposure models must balance the need for transparency with the need for fidelity and credibility.

Sensors / Dosimeters 
This subgroup is reviewing the recommendations of the National Research Council; taking inventory of current and emerging tools and gaps; and developing options for new approaches that may enhance or replace older approaches. New challenges and new scientific advances mean that an expanded, integrated vision of exposure science is necessary — one that considers exposures from source to dose, over time and space; and accounts for multiple stressors from molecular to ecosystem levels. Advanced sensor and dosimeter technology is an important part of this expanded vision.

The Sensors workgroup collaborated with federal partners and Small Business Administration staff to create the Sensor Technology for the 21st Century microsite. This site provides a central web location to help sensor developers locate SBIR and/or STTR funding opportunities across federal agencies. 


This group's charter is reviewed on an annual basis. The full charter text follows. 

The Working Group is chartered under the Toxics and Risks Subcommittee of the White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Sustainability (CENRS). The Working Group is co-chaired by Dr. Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta of EPA, and Dr. Gayle Debord of CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

A. Official Designation
The Working Group on Exposure Science for the 21st Century (ES21) is hereby established by action of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC); Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability (CENRS); Toxics and Risk Subcommittee (T&R).

B. Purpose and Scope
Exposure science investigates the contact of humans or other organisms with chemical, physical, and biologic stressors, and their fate in living systems.  Understanding exposure provides the real­ world context for describing risk, along with information on the most effective ways to reduce exposure and improve health. Exposure science has become more important with the emergence of today’s complex problems including climate change, security threats, population pressure, urbanization, depletion of natural resources, and increased understanding of environmentally related illness. This complexity, combined with advances in measurement and computational technologies, provides new opportunities for advancing and using exposure science to address today's wide range of health challenges.

The purpose of the ES21 Working Group is to build on the framework recommended by the National Academy of Sciences in its 2012 report on Exposure Science in the 2 1st Century: a Vision and a Strategy, and promote federal collaboration in the development of exposure science. The ES21 Working Group will serve to share information, integrate activities, and reduce duplication of efforts across agencies in the development of new exposure science.

C. Functions
ES21 will be a forum for federal agencies to collaborate and advance the field of exposure science and optimize agency resources by:

  • Identifying and coordinating ongoing and planned exposure science research and development activities among federal agencies in the near-, mid- and long-term in a planning matrix. This matrix will focus on the topics areas of modeling, biomonitoring, sensor technologies, managing data, and community engagement/citizen science.
  • Identifying innovations to modernize methods and optimize the use of exposure data to advance research and development, and applications in science and technology;
  • Developing a prioritized list of activities and research collaborations that could substantially modernize and promote the use of exposure science.

ES21 will coordinate with, and address the needs of, other relevant CENRS Committees and working groups. ES21 will report their findings to the Committee prior to the termination date.

D. Membership and Structure
The following NSTC departments and agencies are represented on the ES21 Working Group:
Department of Agriculture
Department of Commerce
Department of Defense
Department of Energy
Department of Health and Human Services
Department of Homeland Security
Department of the Interior
Department of Labor
Department of Transportation
Environmental Protection Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
National Science Foundation

The following organizations of the Executive Office of the President are also represented on ES21: Office of Management and Budget and Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Cooperating departments and agencies shall include other such Executive organizations, departments, and agencies as the T&R Co-chairs may, from time to time, designate. ES21 Co­-chairs and an Executive Secretary shall be appointed by the T&R Co-chairs. The Executive Secretary shall maintain and distribute agendas, minutes, records of action, and products, consistent with NSTC procedures.

E. Private-Sector Interface
ES21, in consultation with T&R, may seek advice from members of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to secure  appropriate "private-sector" advice, and will recommend to T&R, CENRS and/or the President's Science Advisor the nature of any additional non-Federal advice needed to accomplish its mission. ES21 may also interact with and receive ad hoc advice from various private-sector groups consistent with the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The Federal Advisory Committee Act, 5 U.S.C. App., as amended, does not explicitly define "private sector," but the phrase is generally understood to include individuals or entities outside the federal government such as, but not limited to, the following: non-federal sources, academia, state, local or tribal governments, individual citizens, the public, non-governmental organizations, industry associations, international bodies, etc.

F. Termination
Unless renewed by the Co-chairs of the T&R Subcommittee prior to its expiration, ES21 shall terminate no later than May 25, 2017.

G. Determination
I hereby determine that establishment of the Working Group on Exposure Science for the 21st Century (ES21) is in the public interest in connection with the performance of duties imposed on the Executive Branch by law and those duties can best be performed through the advice and counsel of such a group.

Approved by Co-chairs of the T&R Subcommittee.

Member Organizations

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
     -- National Center for Environmental Health
     -- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Department of Agriculture
​     -- Agricultural Research Service
​     -- Food Safety and Inspection Service
​     -- National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Department of Defense
     -- Air Force Civil Engineer Center
​     -- Army Sustainment Command
​     -- U.S. Army Corp of Engineers
​     -- Force Health Protection & Readiness
​     -- Navy Marine Corps Public Health Center
Department of Energy
Department of Homeland Security
Environmental Protection Agency
​     -- Office of Air and Radiation
​     -- Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention
​     -- Office of Research and Development
Food and Drug Administration
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
National Institutes of Health
​     -- National Cancer Institute
​     -- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
National Institute of Standards and Technology
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Office of Management and Budget
U.S. Geological Survey
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

EPA Exposure Science in the 21st Century

Recognizing that exposure science is a key component for providing the best public health and ecosystem protection, EPA has taken several steps to ensure that the science and research that informs agency decisions keeps pace with current and emerging environmental issues.

One step was to request that the National Academies, as independent advisers on scientific matters, develop a long-range vision for exposure science in the 21st century and a strategy for implementing this vision in the next 20 years. Four reports from the National Academies chart the future directions for using innovative technology and scientific advances to better understand how chemicals impact human health and the environment:

Exposure Science in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy was a report commissioned in 2010 by EPA with additional support from NIEHS. A scientific panel convened by the National Academies’ National Research Council authored and published it in 2012.

Exposure Science Framework
The report outlines a framework for advancing exposure science to study how humans and ecosystems interact with chemical, biological, and physical stressors in their environments. The report also describes scientific and technologic advances needed to support the long-range vision for exposure science in the 21st century and concludes with a discussion of the elements needed to realize it. Examples of the needed elements that the report outlines are: 

  • Use state-of-the-art methods and technologies (such as remote sensing and global positioning) to gather exposure information.
  • Incorporate advances in genomic technologies and informatics to systematically assemble vast amounts of different exposure data types.
  • Engage stakeholders who want to contribute exposure data and studies.
  • Coordinate exposure research through a formal collaboration with other federal agencies, similar to Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century.
  • Train and educate the next generation of exposure scientists. 

Exposure Research at EPA
EPA’s exposure research approach aligns with the research recommendations described in the National Research Council report. Examples include:

  • Molecular technologies and biomarkers to measure signatures of exposure to environmental stressors on humans and ecosystems;
  • Predictive models (such as EPA’s SHEDS model and CMAQ model) for understanding exposures to chemicals and other environmental pollutants;
  • Tools (such as C-FERST and T-FERST) for communities to identify and manage health risks;
  • Models and tools (such as Expocast) to evaluate exposures to tens of thousands of chemicals in commerce;
  • Evaluation and application of sensor technologies that allow individuals and communities to rapidly collect real-time information;
  • New testing methods for determining bioavailability of chemicals in soil at Superfund sites;
  • Collection and mapping of environmental datasets (such as EnviroAtlas) that allow users to understand spatial aspects of exposure;
  • State-of-the art methods (such as the DNA-based method) for monitoring chemicals and microbials in water, air, food, soil, and dust.

Exposure science is critical for predicting, preventing and reducing human health and ecosystem risks. It is instrumental in helping to:

  • Forecast, prevent, and mitigate exposures;
  • Identify populations that have high exposures;
  • Assess and manage human health and ecosystem risks;
  • Protect vulnerable and susceptible populations; and
  • Evaluate sustainable solutions to environmental problems.