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Faculty Spotlight: Gary Ginsberg

February 10, 2022

Clinical Professor, Environmental Health Sciences • Course: Risk Assessment and Policy

Dr. Gary Ginsberg, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Environmental Health for the New York State Department of Health. He has served on a number of national panels and committees including the National Academy of Sciences’ panels on biomonitoring, U.S. EPA risk methods, arsenic, crystalline silica, and he currently serves on the Academy's Emerging Science committee. Dr. Ginsberg has also advised the U.S. EPA on a wide range of risk assessment topics while serving as a reviewer of IRIS assessments, as a member of the Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee and U.S. EPA's Science Advisory Board. Dr. Ginsberg has provided expert guidance to additional federal agencies including OSHA, CPSC and the FDA. His risk assessments on fish contaminants, synthetic turf fields, acrylamide, cadmium, and assessments pertaining to risks in children and those with genetic polymorphisms have been published in numerous peer review journals. Dr. Ginsberg co-authored a book for the lay public called “What’s Toxic, What’s Not” (Berkeley Books, 2006).

What drives you in the work that you do? What are you passionate about?

Gary Ginsberg: Risk assessment is a creative endeavor that integrates toxicology, epidemiology, molecular biology, genetics, environmental science, exposure science and a host of related disciplines. All of these are fascinating in their own right, and especially so in their blending to build an assessment that informs public policy and government regulation. These skills and tools are needed by society now more than ever. The threats to public health from toxic chemicals, sources of radiation, climate change and a variety of co-occurring stressors underscores the importance of an applied science that can account for these factors. Emerging techniques in toxicology and related disciplines have the promise to revolutionize this work. I personally find risk assessment to be highly demanding, relevant, rewarding and, yes, exciting, and share this passion with my students.

Why did you choose a career in public health?

G.G.: I have worked extensively in basic research, the industrial sector and now, for the past 26 years, in public health. I find that the public health perspective provides the context and balance needed to evaluate environmental risks in an evenhanded and solutions-oriented manner. Public health also offers the greatest vantage point to see across the range of stressors affecting community health and which need to be accounted for in our assessments and policies. Public health offers plenty of opportunities to seek funding, publish papers, collaborate across disciplines, work locally and internationally and impact public policy.

What is the most significant challenge facing your field of study today?

G.G.: Risk assessments are only as good as the data they work with. Data is often limited in critical areas such as what actually occurs at very low levels of exposure, what makes some people much more susceptible than others, and how non-chemical stressors and environmental justice factors interact with chemicals to affect the distribution of risk in a community. Where there are data gaps, we try to characterize the uncertainties and in some cases actually assign numerical factors to account for the magnitude of uncertainty we understand to be present. The key challenge in risk assessment is to find ways to decrease uncertainty and increase accuracy and transparency.

Submitted by Denise Meyer on February 11, 2022