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David Eastmond

Chair and Professor of Cell Biology and Toxicologist
David Eastmond
Protecting Californians from Environmental Toxins
We live in a chemical world. Everything we breathe, eat and drink is made up of chemicals. And while some of these chemicals are beneficial, or have little to no impact on humans, others are actually quite toxic. Despite these risks, only a fraction of the many chemicals we come into contact with have been thoroughly tested. Toxicologist David Eastmond studies the adverse effects of chemicals on human health, with a special focus on environmental chemicals that cause cancer. He serves on California’s Carcinogen Identification Committee, a group charged with assisting in the implementation of the “Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act” (Proposition 65).

Areas of Expertise

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • Member, Chemical Assessment Advisory Committee, U.S. EPA, Nov. 2013 to present.
  • Elected Fellow of the Collegium Ramazzini, Nov. 2011 to present.
  • Chair, Board of Scientific Counselors, National Toxicology Program, NIEHS, Feb. 2011 to Dec. 2012.
  • Member, Carcinogen Identification Committee, Science Advisory Board, Office of Environmental Health and Hazard Assessment, State of California, 1999 to 2003, 2005 to present.
  • Jefferson Science Fellow, US Department of State (administered by the National Academy of Sciences), Washington DC, 2004 to 2005.
  • President, Environmental Mutagen Society, May 2003 to Oct. 2004.


Q: Why is your research important?
My research focuses on understanding the adverse effects of chemicals on human health, with a special focus on environmental chemicals that cause cancer. It’s important for people to understand what risks are associated with chemicals that they’re exposed to and for regulators to understand the mechanisms by which a particular chemical causes cancer and its relevance for humans.

Q: What are some of the possible implications of your research?
In trying to identify chemicals that cause adverse effects in humans, we’ve done work on a number of different chemicals over the years. One of the most notable of these is benzene. We’ve been able to show that, even in lower quantities previously thought to be safe, benzene can cause adverse effects. Benzene is widely known to cause toxicity to bone marrow and leukemia in humans.

Q: How is someone exposed to benzene?
Benzene is an important industrial chemical and a widespread environmental contaminant. The most common exposure to benzene takes place during cigarette smoking, but it’s also found in gasoline. So people are exposed to small levels of benzene while smoking and when filling up their car or breathing in automobile exhaust fumes. We believe that benzene may act through inhibition of a particular enzyme called topoisomerase II.

Q: What is the goal of your research?
The goal of our research is to identify chemicals that cause adverse effects in humans, understand the mechanisms by which they cause these effects and gain a better understanding of the risks associated with exposure. That way, we can ultimately protect humans from unnecessary exposure to chemicals that cause cancer or other toxic effects.

Q: How is your research being used?
In addition to other scientists, our research is being used by government regulatory agencies to help establish standards. For example, our work on ortho-phenylphenol (a common disinfectant) has been used to evaluate the safety of that chemical.

Q: What’s next for your research?
We intend to continue studying the risks and adverse effects of chemicals, but we’re looking at using newer technologies that have been developed, such as gene expression studies (toxicogenomics), to see if they can be used to assess chemical risks. Part of our work involves trying to improve current risk assessment approaches. We’re also hoping to understand the low-dose risks of chemicals that inhibit topoisomerase II. In addition, we are looking at an important industrial chemical called vanadium pentoxide, which causes lung cancer in mice, and trying to understand the mechanisms by which it causes genetic damage.

Q: How does the United States compare with other countries in addressing the adverse effects of environmental chemicals?
The United States, along with most of Europe, has come a long way in dealing with these hazards over the last few decades. Certain developing countries are having greater difficulty getting regulations and standards in place. India and China, which have undergone rapid industrialization over recent years, are facing very serious challenges such as air pollution, water pollution, occupational exposures, adulteration of foods, etc. That’s not to say things are perfect in the United States. We still have significant problems that must be addressed, such as environmental pollution, occupational exposures and contaminants found in certain consumer products. Our regulatory agencies are trying to reduce those problems as they are able.

Q: How does your research impact public policy?
In 1986, the state of California passed the “Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act”—commonly known as Proposition 65. The goal of Proposition 65 is to place warnings on things to notify the public when they are exposed to chemicals which cause cancer, developmental or reproductive toxic effects. I serve on the Carcinogen Identification Committee, a group charged with assisting in the implementation of Proposition 65. This committee is comprised of an expert group of individuals that help evaluate chemicals to determine whether they should be placed on the list of chemicals known to the state of California as causing cancer.

Q: What does “Living the Promise” mean to you?
In my mind, living the promise refers to the promise and commitment of the University of California to teaching, research and service that will benefit the people of California. And I think that we’re doing that. We’re working to teach young men and women in a diverse array of fields, we’re doing research to address problems and concerns for society, and we’re serving on various regulatory and expert panels to advise governmental agencies.

David Eastmond “I want to understand things and use this knowledge to help make good regulating decisions.”

—David Eastmond
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