Grand Challenge #2

Advancing individual and societal health in the 21st century

New manufactured products and chemicals play an important role in societal progress: They make crops more productive, medicines more effective, and structures more durable, to name just a few benefits. But in most cases, the long-term impact of these chemicals on people, other species, and ecosystems is poorly understood.

What we can say with certainty is that synthetic chemicals are ubiquitous in the world, from the ocean floor to the human bloodstream. Many persist and accumulate in living things, and some can inflict harm in subtle ways over long periods of time.

We are working to bring these chemical concerns to light — focusing in particular on air pollution, electronic cigarettes, 3D printer emissions, and flame retardants, which pose global risks to health.


Examining the health implications of emissions when lithium-ion batteries fail

With the use of lithium-ion batteries on the rise, ESRI is working with Texas-based Southwest Research Institute to study the particulates emitted when those batteries fail catastrophically and enter an uncontrollable, self-heating state known as thermal runaway. The goal of the project is to measure the concentration, size, and mass of particulate components at both the single-cell and module levels, adding depth to research literature that lacks data on the particulates released during thermal runaway.

Understanding and reducing the health risks of chemicals

Today, there are more than 140,000 specific chemicals used to make products utilized daily, though the health impacts of only about 5% are understood. In 2022, CIRI studied the chemicals emitted by 3D printers and worked to characterize particle and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from electronic cigarettes. CIRI also launched a study into the ways in which people are exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), known as “forever” chemicals because they do not break down in the environment or in our bodies.

CIRI research aims to identify climate change-related health risks

Some effects of climate change are closer to home than commonly believed. Seeking to close scientific knowledge gaps, CIRI is researching health risks associated with climate change-related indoor chemical pollution exposure and emissions from fires in areas where human development and undeveloped wildland meet, called the wildland-urban interface.

Explore Our Other Grand Challenges

Building resilience for a sustainable future

Promoting safety at the human-digital interface