Focus Area Lead

Jim Olson.

James Olson

Director, Division of Environmental Health Sciences

UB Distinquished Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health


Professor Olson's Biography

James Olson, Ph.D. joined the faculty of the University at Buffalo in 1980, where he serves as a UB Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Pharmacology and Toxicology and Epidemiology and Environmental Health. He also serves as the Director of the Environmental Health Sciences Division, School of Public Health and Health Professions and Director of the Pharmacology and Toxicology undergraduate program in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. He is nationally and internationally recognized for his research in toxicology and environmental health sciences and has recently served as a member of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides-  8th and 9th  Biennial Updates.  Dr. Olson’s research experience and expertise ranges from basic research on xenobiotic metabolism and global gene expression to assessment of biomarkers of exposure, effect and susceptibility in large, international, population-based studies.  He currently has funding from the Fogarty International Center and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to assess exposure and health effects in Egyptian pesticide applicators and build research capacity at Menoufia University, Egypt. 

Grand Challenge

“Characterizing and Mitigating the Health Effects of Environmental and Occupational Exposures Across the Lifespan”

The grand challenge will address the important, unmet need to understand the impact of a life-time of environmental stressors (chemical, biological, physical) and genomes on health outcomes across multiple generations.

There is interest in the following activities:

  • Develop and Utilize New approaches to assess exposures across the life span (pollutants in air, water, soil, food)
  • Collect and model historical data on air pollution, waste sites and other industrial and municipal discharges  in WNY
  • Utilize geographic information system (GIS) analysis, senor technology, chemical analysis, and modelling approaches to estimate past and current exposures.
  • Collect and bank human bio-specimens (urine, blood, saliva, etc) which can be used to provide sensitive and specific Human Biomarkers of Exposure, Effect and Susceptibility to chemicals of interest [such as, Pesticides, Persistent Organic Pollutants (PCBs, PBDEs, Dioxins, Furans, etc.), metals (arsenic, manganese), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene]. 
  • Future efforts in exposure science will expand to include the emerging field of the exposome. The exposome encompasses the totality of human environmental (i.e. non-genetic) exposures from conception onwards, complementing the genome  Wild (2005, 2012) described three overlapping domains within the exposome: 1) a general external environment including the urban environment, climate factors, social capital, stress, 2) a specific external environment with specific contaminants, diet, physical activity, tobacco, infections, etc., and 3) an internal environment to include internal biological factors such as metabolic factors, gut microflora, inflammation, oxidative stress.
  • To determine the impact of environmental stressors on the human genome and microbiome and together, their impact on health outcomes. 
  • To mitigating the health effects of environmental and occupational exposures.

Why UB?

A RENEW Focus in Environmental Exposures, Genomes, and Health Environmental Health requires collaborative multidisciplinary approaches to address key research questions.

A number of UB faculty have actively participated in developing a strategic plan for this renew focus area.  A total of 43 faculty from 14 Departments, representing the Schools of Public Health a Health Professions, Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Nursing, Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Applied Sciences, Architecture  and Planning and Social Work have expressed an interest in the RENEW Focus in Environmental Exposures, Genomes, and Health. Faculty with backgrounds in epidemiology and environmental health, toxicology, chemistry, engineering, geography, biology, public health, medicine, nursing, urban planning, and communications are part of this focus area. 

UB has additional unique strengths with centers and communities of excellence which directly support Environmental Health research and education, including: 

  • National Center for Geographic Information Analysis (NCGIA)
  • Buffalo Institute for Genomics and Data Analytics   (BIG)
  • Community of Excellence (COE)   in the Genome, the Environment, and the Microbiome (GEM)
  • Community of Excellence (COE)   in Global Health Equity (GHE)
  • Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences
  • Institute of Healthcare Informatics
  • Atlantic Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Training Center
  • Environmental Analytical Chemistry Supporting Human Exposure Assessment (North Campus: Analytical Environmental Chemistry; and South Campus: Toxicology Research Center Analytical Facility)
  • Epidemiology and Environmental Health
  • Pharmacology and Toxicology
  • Biological Sciences

·         Civil and Environmental Engineering

  • Nursing
  • Community Health and Health Behavior


The combination of 1) geographic location with numerous environmental concerns, 2) a strong interdisciplinary faculty, and 3) specialized research centers and communities of excellence sets UB apart from other Institutions with Environmental Health Centers.


Environmental Health at UB is poised to become a leader in the areas of Exposure Science and Gene-Environment Interactions by focusing our efforts to better understand the impacts of a life-time of environmental stressors (chemical, biological, physical) and genomes on health outcomes across multiple generations.

View Focus Area Presentation at RENEW Roll-Out Meeting on May 25th, 2016