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Chemicals in the Environment: Toxicology and Public Health (BE.104J)

Spring 2005

Photo of oil sheen on river going through city.

Oil floating on the River Irwell near the Manchester UK city center. (Photo courtesy of Matt Cox.)

Course Highlights

This course features lecture notes and a full set of assignments.

Course Description

This course addresses the challenges of defining a relationship between exposure to environmental chemicals and human disease. Course topics include epidemiological approaches to understanding disease causation; biostatistical methods; evaluation of human exposure to chemicals, and their internal distribution, metabolism, reactions with cellular components, and biological effects; and qualitative and quantitative health risk assessment methods used in the U.S. as bases for regulatory decision-making. Throughout the term, students consider case studies of local and national interest.


Required Texts

 Salsburg, D. The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman and Company, 2001. ISBN: 9780716741060.

 Gordis, L. Epidemiology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders, 2004. ISBN: 9780721603261.

 Schork, M. A., and R. D. Remington. Statistics with Applications to the Biological and Health Sciences. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2000. ISBN: 9780130223272.

Grading Policy

Percentage contributions to the final grade are as follows:

Activities Percentages
Quizzes (Two, 25% each) 50%
Homework Assignments (10-page Book Critique, 10%; 5 Problem Sets, 15%) 25%
Team Project (Team Project Paper, 15%; Team Project Presentation, 10%) 25%


There will be optional weekly recitation sessions offered throughout the term. However, students are strongly encouraged to attend. In addition to answering questions relating to the lecture material, homework assignments, and projects, the TA will provide background help with concepts in several areas, including epidemiology and biostatistics for the first half and elements of chemistry and biochemistry and risk analyses for the second.

Reading Assignment for "The Lady Tasting Tea"

During the first half of the term, students are required to read The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century, by David Salsburg. This book provides a historical introduction to statistical and environetics principles that will be the focus of the first half of the course. Students are expected to read the entire book. The purpose of this reading is to introduce students to the field of statistics and to prepare them for the concepts and language of uncertainty, which permeates statistical thought.

Problem Sets

Problem sets are due as noted in the lecture schedule. There will be a 20% reduction in the grade for each day that a problem set is late.


There will be two quizzes during the term. The second quiz will only cover material presented after the first quiz. Quizzes will be given in-class during the regular lecture period as noted in the schedule. Quiz #1 is open book. The format of Quiz #2 will be determined by instructors. There is no final examination.

Team Project

Students will be grouped into teams of 3-4 students to work jointly on a project to investigate an environmental agent for which there is reason for concern about possible adverse health effects for human populations. The investigation will center on concepts developed during the term, with emphasis on relating environmental exposures and toxicological mechanisms to quantitative risk assessment of potential health effects.


1 Introductory Lecture Prof. James Sherley
Prof. Steven Tannenbaum
Dr. Laura Green
2 Watch film A Civil Action Prof. James Sherley
Prof. Steven Tannenbaum
Dr. Laura Green
3 From the Real World to Hollywood and Back Again Dr. Laura Green  
4 Epidemiology: Persons, Places, and Time Prof. James Sherley  
5 Epidemiology: Test Development and Relative Risk Prof. James Sherley  
6 Biostatistics: Concepts in Variance Prof. James Sherley Problem set 1 Epidemiology out
7 Biostatistics: Distribution and the Mean

Confidence Intervals
Prof. James Sherley Problem set 2 Biostatistics 1 out

Problem set 1 Epidemiology due
8 Biostatistics: Detecting Differences and Correlations Prof. James Sherley  
9 Biostatistics: Poisson Analyses and Power Prof. James Sherley Problem set 3 Biostatistics 2 out

Problem set 2 Biostatistics 1 due

Team project topic deadline
10 Environetics: Cause and Effect Prof. James Sherley  
11 Environetics: Study Design - Retrospective versus Prospective Prof. James Sherley Problem set 3 Biostatistics 2 due

Team project approvals completed
12 Environetics: Putting it all together - Evaluating Studies Prof. James Sherley Lady Tasting Tea 10-page review due
13 Quiz #1: Epidemiology-Biostatistics Prof. James Sherley  
14 Evaluating Environmental Causes of Mesothelioma Prof. James Sherley  
15 Quantitative Risk Assessment 1 Dr. Laura Green  
16 Quantitative Risk Assessment 2 Dr. Laura Green  
17 Toxicology 1 Prof. Steven Tannenbaum  
18 Toxicology 2 Prof. Steven Tannenbaum Problem set 4 Toxicology 1 out
19 Toxicology 3 Prof. Steven Tannenbaum  
20 Toxicology 4 Prof. Steven Tannenbaum Problem set 5 Toxicology 2 out

Problem set 4 Toxicology 1 due
21 Toxicology 5 Prof. Steven Tannenbaum  
22 Quantitative Risk Assessment 3 Dr. Laura Green Problem set 5 Toxicology 2 due
23 Quantitative Risk Assessment 4 Dr. Laura Green  
24 Quiz #2: QRA-Toxicology Dr. Laura Green
Prof. Steven Tannenbaum
25 Classroom Presentations of Team Projects   20-page team papers due in class
26 Classroom Presentations of Team Projects (cont.)   Tell A Friend