About NIEHS Center for Environmental Exposures & Disease

The Center for Environmental Exposures and Disease (CEED) at Rutgers University is a recognized leader in New Jersey (NJ) – the most densely populated state in the Union, with many of its residents living in close proximity to major congested roadways, and industrial and commercial centers. NJ is also the home of more Superfund sites than any other state due to a long history of poorly regulated industry, as well as active efforts to identify contamination. Over 85% of the state’s land area is already ‘built-out’ or preserved, meaning there will soon be no remaining undeveloped land. Thus, NJ is a microcosm that reflects the longstanding and emerging environmental problems confronting the entire nation.

The strategic vision of CEED is to address the environmental health concerns of all NJ residents by centering our efforts on its most affected populations. We aim to accomplish our strategic vision by engaging community members, organizations, and agencies as advisors and partners through all stages of our research, providing critical investment and infrastructure for multidisciplinary  collaborative research, and training the next generation of environmental health scientists.

Message from the Director

The Center for Environmental Exposures and Disease (CEED) was established in 1987 as a collaboration between Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (merged in 2013), with a goal of understanding, detecting, preventing and solving environmental health problems through collaborative research. The Center has received generous support from The National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) for the last 32 years, as one of 22 Environmental Health Sciences Core Centers. CEED has approximately 86 members from 23 Rutgers departments.

Regionally, CEED serves New Jersey, the most densely populated and perhaps the most heavily polluted state in the nation. CEED members serve as advisors to state, local, and national officials, professional associations, and citizens groups on issues of pollution and consequent disease, environmental health education and disease prevention. Current research projects include the effects of diesel air pollution on asthma and cardiac disease, the effects of nanoparticles used in manufacturing and consumer products, the interaction of genetic and environmental factors on disease, and the effects of diet on immune system functioning.

CEED Leadership

Photo of Helmut Zarbl PhD
Helmut Zarbl, PhD
CEED Director Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute – School of Public HealthEnvironmental and Occupational Health and Justice
Photo of Debra Laskin PhD
Debra Laskin, PhD
CEED Deputy Director Rutgers-EMSOPPharmacology and Toxicology


Climate Change & Human Health

As part of a campuswide initiative to advance research into the societal and health impacts of climate change, Rutgers has provided funding for symposia and pilot projects. In 2023, pilot grants were awarded to CEED members to study the adverse human health impacts of climate change-related toxins, including harmful algal blooms ($150,000, S. Xiao) and mycoestrogens ($70,000, Z. Rivera-Núñez).


Environmental Justice

In 2020, NJ became the 1st state to pass EJ legislation that empowers NJ DEP to deny applications if impacts in overburdened communities are disproportionate relative to non-overburdened communities. CEED Community Engagement Core leaders provided crucial data accumulated over many decades to support the passage of this legislation.


Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness

CEED is committed to ensuring DEI in all aspects of its training and research activities. In 2020, CEED leadership established a DEI Action Plan based on measurable goals (see Plan for Enhancing Diverse Perspectives). Progress towards these goals is monitored by the CEED Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) committee. 


Environmental Exposures

In 2018-2019, 6.4% of children in Trenton, NJ were identified with blood lead levels >5 μg/dL due to lead contamination in water (lead service lines), soil, and dust, as well as a legacy of ceramics manufacturers. To address the concerns of affected NJ residents, CEED (B. Buckley) partnered with three community groups: the East Trenton Collaborative (ETC), Isles, Inc., and NJ Future, to perform a targeted intervention study designed to reduce lead exposure. To accomplish this, community volunteers visited ~200 homes where soil tested for high lead content or a resident had high blood lead levels.


CEED is physically and administratively located within the Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI) on the Busch Campus in Piscataway, NJ. EOHSI is part of Rutgers Biomedical Health Sciences (RBHS) led by Chancellor B. Strom. CEED investigators represent 34 departments across 4 NJ universities. CEED’s long-term relationships with  the Rutgers School of Public Health and the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy are particularly strong and many CEED members are
faculty in these Schools.

CEED partners with several other Centers and Institutes at Rutgers with overlapping missions related to environmental health and CEED faculty hold leadership roles in many of these centers/institutes. This commitment to collaboration is evidenced by their pledge to provide financial support totaling $825,000 for the CEED Pilot Projects Program . The Administrative Core takes a high-level view of all Center activities and coordinates the timing of events and functions. The Administrative Core coordinates all Center activities.

CEED & the Community

Community Engagement Core

The overarching goal of the CEED Community Engagement Core (CEC) is to support the strategic vision of CEED to address the environmental health concerns of all NJ residents by centering our efforts on its most affected populations. CEC works with communities and CEED researchers to characterize the health risks that people face in their daily lives, translate existing research evidence to action to reduce exposure and risks, and identify new research directions that are aligned with community environmental health needs.

Director: Robert Laumbach, MD, MPH

Associate Director: Alison Bernstein, Ph.D.

Coordinator: Kerry Margaret Butch; 

CEC collaborates with community-based and statewide environmental, health and public policy organizations to address multiple environmental stressors in highly-impacted areas such as port-adjacent communities. CEC is an active partner in the Coalition for Healthy Ports, a national group addressing the impact of shipping and trucking activities on communities near ports.  The Newark/ Elizabeth Port contributes significant pollutants to the air and water of nearby communities including Newark’s Ironbound.  We work locally with partners Ironbound Community Corporation, Clean Water Action, New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, and GreenFaith, and nationally with the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports, which unites over 150 organizations including our sister NIEHS Center at the University of Southern California.

Center Cores

By funding new research directions, innovative approaches and
the research programs of junior faculty, the program is crucial to advancing the Center’s mission. The PPP enhances research in novel areas of environmental health science and attracts investigators to environmental health. The Program funds research that by its innovative nature, is high risk, but also has high potential for high reward, with the goal of using data generated to obtain extramural grants. Pilots are often one of the first sources of competitive research funding for new researchers and are therefore a powerful incentive to attract investigators to CEED. Pilot projects typically involve 2-3 CEED members or a CEED member and nonmember, with community-engaged research partnerships encouraged. Pilot grants foster mentorship, stimulate collaboration,  romote interdisciplinary research, and enhance community-engaged research through small, targeted, or larger integrated, interdisciplinary grants. Funding decisions will be made by a committee comprised of the Director, Deputy Director, and PPP Co-Directors (T. Roepke and A. Gow).

CEED membership includes 59 investigators that span NJ universities (Rutgers, Princeton, Rowan, and NJ Institute of Technology) and 34 different departments. Members are expected to be active in scientific research cores and interact with community partners
(individually or through organizations) and in return, benefit from the infrastructure,
resources, and networking provided by the Center. CEED leadership actively solicits
member feedback on operations including budgeting, vision of the Pilot Project and
Career Development Programs, and new  opportunities to redirect research efforts
towards environmental public health threats.

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170 Frelinghuysen Road
Piscataway, NJ 08854