Course Announcement:
Behavioral Effects of Environmental Contaminants
Fall Quarter, 1997.
Christopher Newland, Ph.D.
110 Thach Hall
Department of Psychology
Voice: 844-6479. Email:

I plan to offer a course entitled "Behavioral Effects of Environmental Contaminants" in the Fall of 1997. Previously this course has been a specialized graduate seminar but I am broadening its scope and making it available to a much larger group of students, including advanced undergraduate students. I hope that students from psychology, environmental studies, or other curricula interested in these issues will find the course useful. This change in course structure is motivated by an increased public attention being given to environmental health issues in general, and nervous system effects in particular.

The course will cover toxicants that act on the nervous system, their behavioral consequences, and how their health effects are incorporated into the assessment of human risk by such agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency or the Food and Drug Administration. We will cover learning and cognition, sensory function, motor function, exposure during development, risk assessment with behavioral endpoints, and environmental regulation. Consideration will be given to effects on both human and animal species and some time will be devoted to the issues of generalizing from adverse effects in nonhuman species to understanding adverse health effects in humans.

We will review lead (of course!), mercury, other heavy metals, organic solvents, alcohols, (especially "Fetal Alcohol Syndrome"), pesticides, and some drugs of abuse. The course is aimed at graduate students and advanced undergraduates with an interest in this topic. The consideration of effects will be intertwined with methods because in this relatively new area the two are inseparable. There are no formal prerequisites other than literacy in natural science and at least junior standing. Some basic understanding of the nervous system and behavior will help but we cover necessary material as we go through the course.

Due to a scheduling error, this course was not listed in the Fall schedule of Courses as distributed on paper but it is listed electronically. Note, graduate students (registered for PG 661) will get to do a paper/presentation at the end of the quarter.

You may ask Dr. Newland questions by e-mail or phone at the numbers given above..

To Register, enroll in:

PG 661 Behavioral Effects of Environmental Contaminants. Code 5674 (its name in the schedule of courses is "Environ. Contamin."). MW 15:00-17:00

PG 551 code 5673 (under Newland) for advanced undergraduates.

Preliminary Syllabus

Course Title: Behavioral Effects of Environmental Contaminants.

Instructor: Christopher Newland, Ph.D.

110 Thach Hall

Department of Psychology

Voice: 844-6479 E-Missives:

Text: Environmental Neurotoxicology. National Research Council, National Academy Press. 1992 (tentative text).

Additional readings will be chosen as required.

Meeting Times: Monday and Wednesday, 3:00 to 5:30. Fall quarter, 1997

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide act (FIFRA), and other pieces of legislation bearing on the health effects of chemicals in the workplace (OSHA), the home (Consumer Product Safety Commission), or the environment (EPA) specifically mention neurobehavioral toxicology as a regulatory concern. The inclusion of nervous system damage in general, and its behavioral manifestations in particular, represents a sea change in public concern over unintended exposure to chemicals. Where cancer has been (and still is) a major concern, the recognition that adverse behavioral effects follow certains types of chemical exposure is increasing.

The heightening public awareness that some toxic substances can act on the nervous system and produce detectable effects presents a major challenge to behavioral scientists. Experimental psychologists and other neuroscientists are being asked to conduct both hazard assessment (ar there neurobehavioral effects of some chemical at any dose?) and risk assessment (what is the risk to a population at a specific level of exposure?) for behavioral effects that are not always well understood. The heavy metal, lead, is a prototypical. Concern over lead poisoning lies not in its carcinogenicity but rather in claims that it lowers scores on IQ tests, retards academic performance, and results in disruptive behavior. The issues that this pattern of effects raises include: Could lead's effects have been anticipated on the basis of studies with nonhuman species?

Can animal studies be conducted more economically while still being valid predictors of human effects?

What populations are most at risk to lead poisoning?

What are the health consequences of treatment for lead poisoning?

What is the actual risk at current levels of lead in the environment and is the cleanup worth the cost?

The course will cover the basic issues in behavioral toxicology. Principles of behavior will be introduced as required to understand how to assess sensory or motor function, learning and memory, nonspecific behavioral effects, or the reinforcing or irritating properties of chemicals. Principles of toxicology will also be introduced as needed, and these will include the importance of dose-effect relationships, quantitative risk assessment with behavioral endpoints, hazard assessment, routes of exposure, and kinetics. We examine many neurotoxicants, but will focus on a few (lead, mercury, pesticides, solvents, or abused drugs) that have played particularly important roles in neurotoxicology, and that offer good examples of the range of behavioral effects, as well as the different social or policy issues that arise in this area.

It is anticipated (and hoped) that this course will draw from students in a variety of disciplines but with a common interest in environmental health issues. A tentative schedule follows:
Week Topic Representative Toxicants
1 General Introduction. Defining Neurotoxicity. 

Some important neurotoxicants 

2 General Issues: Dose effect, route of exposure, kinetics. Manganese, Methylmercury, Toluene
3 Brief introduction to behavior and the nervous system. Ozone, formaldehyde: irritancy 

Toluene: abuse potential.

4 Human testing: Epidemiology and psychometrics Lead, Methylmercury (fetal exposure).
5 Sensory/motor function Methylmercury (vision). Toluene (audition) 

Acrylamide (cutaneous senses).

Manganese, Mercury vapor, Alcohol, Pesticides, MPTP
6 Learning and memory in humans and animals Lead, Behaviorally Active Drugs, Methylmercury.
7 Risk assessment with behavioral endpoints. Regulatory issues.  Lead, Toluene, Cocaine.
8 Development. Specific neurotoxicants. Methylmercury, Alcohol.
9 Review of specific neurotoxicants. Toluene, lead, mercury, pesticides.


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Last modified: July 08, 2010