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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.


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David O. Carpenter, MD

David O. Carpenter is a public health physician whose current position is Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany, as well as Professor of Environmental Health Sciences within the School of Public Health at the University at Albany. After receiving his MD degree from Harvard Medical School he chose a career of research and public health. After research positions at the National Institute of Mental Health and the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute, he came to Albany in 1980 as the Director of the Wadsworth Center for Laboratories and Research of the New York State Department of Health, the third largest public health laboratory in the US after NIH and CDC. In an effort to build ties to an academic program, he initiated efforts to create a partnership between the New York State Department of Health and the University at Albany, resulting in the creation of the School of Public Health in 1985. He was then appointed as the founding Dean of the School of Public Health, a position he held until 1998 when he became the Director of the Institute of Health and the Environment. 

Dr. Carpenter’s research initially was basic neurobiology, and more recently has primarily been the study of human disease resulting from exposure to environmental contaminants. He has more than 350 peer reviewed publications and has edited five books.     

Beginning in 1986 he directed a large, interdisciplinary research study on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), funded by the Superfund Basic Research Program of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health. This particular study, supported at over $2 million a year until 2000, was designed around the PCB contamination coming from the General Motors Foundry Site in Massena, NY, which is directly adjacent to the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne, a Native American community of individuals who traditionally eat fish from waters now heavily contaminated with PCBs. The investigations included health studies of the Mohawks; animal toxicology studies of effects of PCBs on the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems and metabolism; determination of levels of PCBs in human body fluids, animals from the region, soils, sediments, air, and water; and investigation of several methods for destruction and removal of PCBs from contaminated soils, sediments, and water.

Dr. Carpenter has also conducted health effects studies of other PCB-exposed populations, including an Alaskan Native population living on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska (funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the US Environmental Protection Agency), residents of Anniston, Alabama, who live near to the Monsanto plant that manufactured PCBs (funded by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry), and people living along the PCB-contaminated portions of the Hudson River in New York and the Housatonic River in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles based on both human exposure to PCBs and experimental studies with animals experimentally exposed to PCBs. 

In addition, Dr. Carpenter has investigated the distribution of various human diseases in relation to residence near hazardous waste sites. These studies utilize the New York State dataset which records information on every inpatient in state-regulated hospitals. He has matched these data to a characterization of every zip code in so far as it contains or abuts an identified hazardous waste site that either does or does not include persistent organic pollutants (primarily PCBs). While detailed individual information is not available using these data, there are large numbers that allow one to observe patterns of disease in relation to residence near to waste sites. Dr. Carpenter has studied diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, thyroid disease, endocrine disease, asthma, and infections, and for each find elevations in incidence correlated with residence near to waste sites. 


Toxins and the Brain, April 9, 2012