The Environmental Health in Vulnerable Populations Lab focuses on studying exposures to environmental contaminants arising from consumer product use among vulnerable populations understudied and underrepresented in public health research with a focus on women of reproductive age, pregnant women, children, low-income populations, and occupational populations. Our group also seeks to understand the potential adverse health effects of these exposures to inform and develop culturally-appropriate interventions to reduce exposures and their potential health risks, inform policies, and raise environmental health awareness.

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Ongoing Projects

Exposures to Emerging Contaminants Among African American Children and Effects on Respiratory Health

Funder: NIH/NIEHS CHEAR Grant 
PIs: Lesliam Quirós-Alcalá, Jessie P. Buckley                                                                                       

The aim of this project is to assess exposures and potential health effects of endocrine disrupting compounds in two pediatric African American cohorts in Baltimore in collaboration with researchers at the BREATHE Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Collaborators: Dr. Gregory Diette (Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine), Dr. Jessie P. Buckley (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health and Engineering), Dr. Meredith McCormack (Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine), and Dr. Nadia N. Hansel (Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine)


Antimicrobial Agents and Asthma Morbidity Among African American Children with Asthma

Funder: National Institutes of Heart, Blood, and Lung (NHLBI)
K01 Career Development Award                  
PI: Lesliam Quirós-Alcalá                                                                                      

The aim of this project is to test the central hypothesis that exposure to antimicrobial and endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) in personal care products, increases the risk of asthma morbidity among African American children, a vulnerable population experiencing high asthma morbidity and high exposure to select EDCs in personal care products. This project also aims to identify consumer behaviors that may be linked to elevated exposures to chemicals present in consumer products.

Collaborators: Dr. Nadia N. Hansel (Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine), Dr. Stephen Thomas (UMD Department of Health Services Administration, UMD Center for Health Equity), Dr. Elizabeth C. Matsui (Center for Health and Social Policy, Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin), Dr. Meredith McCormack (Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine), and Dr. Gregory Hancock (UMD Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology, UMD Center for Integrated Latent Variable Research)

Press Releases

UMD School of Public Health


The Hair Salon Project: A Pilot Study to Evaluate Occupational Exposures in Hair Salons

Funder: Johns Hopkins NIOSH Education and Research Center for Occupational Safety and Health Grant
PI: Lesliam Quirós-Alcalá

The goals of this project are to assess the indoor air quality and concentrations of indoor air pollutants in hair salons, and to evaluate personal occupational exposures to endocrine disrupting agents among hair salon workers. This project will provide important preliminary data to better understand these exposures and their health impacts among an understudied and underrepresented population in occupational and environmental health research.

Collaborators: Dr. Ana M. Rule (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health and Engineering), Dr. Stephen Thomas (UMD Department of Health Services Administration and Center for Health Equity), Dr. Sacoby M. Wilson (UMD Maryland Institute of Applied Environmental Health), Dr. Amir Sapkota (UMD Maryland Institute of Applied Environmental Health)

Community Partners: Ms. Walkiria Pool (Centro de Apoyo Familiar), Mr. Fred Spry (Salon and Barbershop Owner, Health Advocates In-Reach & Research (HAIR) initiative)

Recently completed projects

UMD Latino Tier I Study: Assessing exposures and health needs to promote health and well-being among Latino workers

Funder:  University of Maryland Tier I Seed Grant
PIs: Lesliam Quirós-Alcalá, Mary A. Garza

The goal of this project is to identify modifiable behavioral and environmental risk factors in a cohort of 156  low-income immigrant Latino workers to aid in chronic disease prevention efforts and to reduce environmental health disparities. This is a mixed methods research project and data collection efforts consisted of focus groups, questionnaires and biospecimen collection. While the project period has ended, work is ongoing.

Collaborators: Dr. Mary A. Garza (UMD Department of Behavioral and Community Health), Dr. Robert Feldman (UMD Department of Behavioral and Community Health), Dr. Ruth Zambrana (UMD Department of Women's Studies), Dr. Kathleen Stewart (UMD Geographical Sciences Department), Ivonne Rivera (Rivera Group, Inc.)

Children in classroomNorth American Partnership for Evironmental Community Action Program Pilot Project for Building Environmental Health Capacity through Child Care Settings

Funder: North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action Program
PI: Nse Witherspoon, Children’s Environmental Health Network

The aim of this project was to raise environmental health awareness and educate childcare providers in the U.S.- Mexico Border on strategies to minimize children’s exposures in child care centers to agents linked to asthma and other adverse health effects. Bilingual training materials were developed as part of this project and Dr. Quiros-Alcala also led a six-hour workshop in Spanish (8/2016, Los Angeles, CA) for childcare providers on environmental health to reduce indoor environmental exposures to children and caregivers in child care centers.

For more information on how to reduce environmental exposures in childcare centers and to learn more about the Children’s Environmental Health Network Eco-Healthy Childcare program click here.

Press Releases

UMD School of Public Health
Children's Environmental Health Network



Meet our Team!

Principal Investigator: Lesliam Quirós-Alcalá, PhD, Assistant Professor

My research focuses on assessing environmental exposures to endocrine disrupting agents and examining their potential health effects on highly vulnerable, low-income and minority populations underrepresented and understudied in public health research, including occupational populations, women, and children. To this end, I have assesed determinants of exposure and health outcomes associated with chemicals in personal care products, cleaning agents, pesticides, and flame retardants.

My research seeks to implement interdisciplinary research methods, including qualitative research methods and advanced exposure and epidemiologic methods, to advance the field and to design and implement culturally-appropriate interventions to reduce environmental health disparities among Latino, African American, and other minority populations. I welcome the opportunity to establish new collaborations and to work with talented undergraduates, graduate students and post-docs. For more information, please contact me.


Meleah Boyle, Doctoral Student

I am a doctoral student at the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health. My research interests include understanding how exposure to chemicals in consumer products impact health outcomes, as well as environmental health literacy. In 2010 I earned my B.S. in Community Health and in 2014 I earned my MPH in Environmental Health both from the University of Maryland School of Public Health. I have been a research assistant with Dr. Quirós-Alcalá since beginning the doctoral program and have had the opportunity to work on several projects to address occupational exposures among immigrant Latino workers as well as hair salon workers.


Kafui Kavi, Doctoral Student

I am a doctoral student at the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health. My research interests include understanding disparities in exposure to chemical products and how these impact health outcomes, especially among women and children. I hold a BSc in Zoology from the University of Ghana and an MS in Entomology (Insect Biochemistry and Toxicology) from Cornell University. I am currently working with Dr. Quirós-Alcalá to assess occupational exposures among hair salon workers.



Leyla Merlo, Undergraduate Public Health Science

I am a rising senior majoring in Public Health Science with a minor in Sustainability Studies. It has been a privilege to have had the opportunity of supporting research efforts for the UMD Latino Study and the Hair Salon Study. Working in Dr. Quiros-Alcala's lab has enabled me to gain a valuable skill set that I will be able to employ in future research activities. In the near future, I wish to obtain an MPH in Maternal and Child Health with a concentration in Global Health. As I enter my last year at UMD, I look forward to continue helping out in Dr. Quiros-Alcala's lab in the hopes of ultimately creating a healthier society for everyone!


Reseach Group Alumni

Darya Dokshina, MPH 2018

My career goal is to work on a local level to address social determinants of health, through an environmental health lens. My particular interests lie in exploring exposure to environmental and occupational agents and the associated health outcomes in vulnerable communities. Pursuing a MPH degree at the University of Maryland School of Public Health has presented me with opportunities and faculty mentorship that have sparked an interest in this field and given me relevant skills and experiences. I contributed to the development of study instruments for Dr. Quirós-Alcalá's UMD Tier I Latino study and also collected and processed biospecimens for the study.

Current Position: Research Fellow at the EPA Office of Water, Water Security Division


Kaley Beins, MPH 2018

A Maryland native, I earned my B.S. in Environmental Biology from Georgetown University. During my time as a Fulbright Fellow in Panama, my work at the environmental health nonprofit Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), and an internship with the Latino Health Initiative of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, my academic interests shifted from ecology and environmental biology to the effects of the environment on human health. As an MPH student, working in Dr. Quirós-Alcalá's lab, in addition to taking her course in occupational health, has given me a better perspective on the exposure disparities and health outcomes associated with work environments. These experiences have also informed my Master's thesis work, specifically how occupational exposures could play a role in the environmental etiology of a rare subset of autoimmune disorders. 

Current Position: Evironmental Health Outreach Specialist, Alexandria Health Department


Melissa DeSantiago, MPH 2017

I graduated with a Masters in Public Health (MPH) in Environmental Health Sciences from the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health at the University of Maryland College Park in May 2017. As a graduate student, my academic interests greatly developed within children’s environmental health and the occupational health realm. While working under the direction of Dr. Quirós-­Alcalá, I had the opportunity to be involved in several research opportunities addressing occupational exposures for Latino workers and fostering awareness of environmental hazards in childcare settings, particularly in low-income Spanish-speaking communities. This led to my collaboration with the Children’s Environmental Health Network, which supported the expansion of the Eco-Healthy Child Care® (EHCC), a training program for Spanish-speaking child care professionals. Following graduation and using both my B.S. degree in Biosystems Engineering and my MPH in Environmental Health, I decided to join United Therapeutics Corporation in Silver Spring, MD as a EHS Engineer, where I am able to use my education and experiences to continue to promote healthy, safe, and sustainable communities for all.

Current Position: Environmental Health and Safety Engineer, United Therapeutics Corporation, Silver Spring, MD 

Recent Publications

Quirós-Alcalá L, Hansel N.N., McCormack M.C., Matsui E.C. Paraben exposures and asthma-related outcomes among children from the U.S. general population. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. DOI:10.1016/j.jaci.2018.08.021

Levy J.I., Quirós-Alcalá L., Fabian M.P., Basra K., Hansel N.N. Established and Emerging Environmental Contributors to Disparities in Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Current Epidemiology Reports, In press: DOI: 10.1007/s40471-018-0149-9.

Quirós-Alcalá L., Buckley J.P., and Boyle M., Parabens and measures of adiposity among adults and children from the U.S. general population: NHANES 2007–2014. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 2018 Mar 15. pii: S1438-4639(17)30869-6.

Buckley J.P., Quirós-Alcalá L., Teitelbaum S.L., Calafat A.M., Wolff M.S., and Engel S.M., Associations of prenatal environmental phenol and phthalate biomarkers with respiratory and allergic diseases among children aged 6 and 7 years. Environment International, 2018 Mar 15;115:79-88.

Gaspar F.W., Chevrier J., Quiros-Alcala L., Lipsitt J.M., Barr D.B., Holland N., Bornman R., and Eskenazi B., Levels and Determinants of DDT and DDE Exposure in the VHEMBE Cohort. Environ Health Perspect, 2017. 125(7): p. 077006.

Boyle M.D., Soneja S., Quiros-Alcala L., Dalemarre L., Sapkota A.R., Sangaramoorthy T., Wilson S., Milton D., and Sapkota A., A pilot study to assess residential noise exposure near natural gas compressor stations. PLoS One, 2017. 12(4): p. e0174310.

Quirós-Alcalá L, Wilson S, Witherspoon N, Murray R, Trousdale K, Raspanti G, and Sapkota A. Volatile organic compounds and particulate matter in child care facilities in the District of Columbia: results from a pilot study. Environmental Research, 2015 Dec, 146, 116-124.

Bradman A*, Quirós-Alcalá L*,  Castorina R. et al. Effect of Organic Diet Intervention on Pesticide Exposures in Young Children Living in Low-Income Urban and Agricultural Communities. Environ Health Perspect. 2015 Oct, 123, 1086-93. * Shared first-authorship

Quirós-Alcalá L, Mehta S, and Eskenazi B. Pyrethroid pesticide exposure and parental report of learning disability and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in U.S. children: NHANES 1999-2002. Environ Health Perspect. 2014; 122(12):1336-42.

Eskenazi B, Quirós-Alcalá L, et al. mSpray: a mobile phone technology to improve malaria control efforts and monitor human exposure to malaria control pesticides in Limpopo, South Africa. Environment International. 2014; 68:219-26.

Quirós-Alcalá L, Eskenazi B, et al. Determinants of urinary bisphenol A concentrations in Mexican/Mexican-American pregnant women. Environment International. 2013; 59C:152-160.

Quirós-Alcalá L, Bradman A, et al.  Organophosphorous pesticide breakdown products in house dust and children’s urine.  J Expo Sci Environ Epidemio. 2012; (22): 559-568.

Bradman A, Kogut K, Eisen E, Jewell N, Quirós-Alcalá L, et al. Variability of organophosphorous pesticide metabolite levels in spot and 24 hour urine samples collected from young children during one week. Environ Health Perspect. 2012; 121(1):118-24.

Quirós-Alcalá L, Alkon AD, et al. Maternal prenatal and child organophosphate pesticide exposures and children's autonomic function. Neurotoxicology. 2011; 32(5):646-55.

Quirós-Alcalá L, Bradman A, et al. Pesticides in house dust from urban and farmworker households in California: an observational measurement study. Environmental Health. 2011; 10:19.

Quirós-Alcalá L, Bradman A, et al. Concentrations and loadings of polybrominated diphenyl ethers in dust from low-income households in California. Environ Int.  2011; 37(3):592-6.

Weerasekera G, Smith K, Quirós-Alcalá L, et al. A mass spectrometry-based method to measure dialkylphosphate products of organophosphorous insecticides in dust and orange juice. J. Environ. Monit. 2009; 11(7):1345-51.

Bradman A, Whitaker D, Quirós L, et al.  Pesticides and their Metabolites in the Homes and Urine of Farmworker Children Living in the Salinas Valley, CA. J Expo Sci Environ Epi. 2007; 17(4): 331-49.