Environmental and Occupational Health
Professor and Chair
Dr. Melissa Perry is a leading public health researcher whose wide-ranging epidemiologic and preventive intervention studies over the past two decades have investigated factors in occupational injury and disease and the influence of chemical and physical agents on reproduction.
Dr. Perry’s research has drawn international attention to the health effects of pesticide exposure. Her work has shed light on how people are exposed to pesticides, as well as the mutagenic and hormonal effects of these exposures on farming communities, agricultural workers, and the general public.
In addition to identifying risks to workers at meat-packing plants, construction sites, and agricultural operations, Dr. Perry has developed engineering and behavioral interventions to address these risks.
Dr. Perry’s laboratory at the Milken Institute School of Public Health focuses on reproductive epidemiology and hormone disruptors, and her group has developed new techniques for high-volume identification of chromosomal abnormalities in sperm cells. Her research group was the first to use semi-automated imaging methods to show how pesticides can impact sperm abnormalities.
Before coming to the George Washington University in 2010, Dr. Perry spent 13 years on the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health faculty. She has received numerous research awards, including grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Dr. Perry is the President of the American College of Epidemiology and a member of the Board of Scientific Counselors, National Center for Environmental Health/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (NCEH/ATSDR) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She serves as a standing member of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health research grant review panel, and she is an associate editor of the journal Reproductive Toxicology. In 2014, Dr. Perry was elected to be a member of the Collegium Ramazzini in recognition of her contributions to advancing occupational and environmental health and her personal and professional integrity. She is also a member of the Technical Advisory Board for the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR). Dr. Perry is currently collaborating on occupational and environmental health projects in South Africa, Tanzania, China, New Zealand, and Albania.
Dr. Perry credits her experience of growing up in a Vermont farm community with inspiring her focus on under-protected workers. She earned her Master of Health Science and Doctor of Science from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. In addition to over 100 peer-reviewed articles, she is the author of many commentaries, book chapters, and abstracts. The more than 50 students who Dr. Perry has mentored include researchers who have gone on to become professors, government program directors, and leaders of major industry research initiatives.
Read more about Dr. Perry’s work in the following stories:
Professor Perry Elected to Collegium Ramazzini
Professor Melissa Perry Appointed to CDC Board of Scientific Counselors
Farmer Informer (Vermont Quarterly profile)
Professor Melissa Perry Elected President of American College of Epidemiology
A Field Trip to the Lab
Melissa Perry and Colleagues Identify that Environmental Exposure to Organochlorines May Impact Male Reproduction
Bachelor of Arts (Psychology), University of Vermont, 1988
Master of Health Science (Public Health), Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, 1990
Doctor of Science (Psychiatric Epidemiology), Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, 1993
Dr. Perry’s principal areas of research interest include health effects of pesticides; agricultural injuries and exposures; and preventive interventions in workplaces. Dr. Perry’s research within these three main areas includes:
Pesticides, biomarkers and hormonal effects: To identify the mutagenic and hormonal effects of herbicide and insecticide exposure in vivo. Interests focus on pre-disease exposure markers signaled by early mutational damage or hormone disruption, across the spectrum of pesticide exposure levels.
Agricultural injuries and exposures: To understand the hazardous context of the farm setting for farmers, farm workers and farm family members. Specifically interested in identifying sources of farm injury including machinery and musculoskeletal trauma and sources of hazardous exposures including pesticides, solvents, and zoonoses. Additionally, interested in quantifying the health effects of hazardous exposures through biomonitoring and identifying gene-environment relationships.
Preventive interventions in occupational settings: To identify models that translate health promotion and disease prevention principles into occupational health settings. Specifically interested in combining behavioral epidemiology methods with safety engineering principles to improve both the design and efficacy of work-related preventive interventions.
Her current projects include the following:
- Environmental Endocrine Disruptors and Human Sperm Chromosomal Abnormalities
- Risk Factors for Lacerations in Meatpacking
- Preventing Falls from Construction Ladders
Among her community service activities, for eight years Dr. Perry served on the advisory board of the Massachusetts Department of Health’s Occupational Health Surveillance Program. She currently serves as a member of the Scientific Understanding Work Group of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures. She also serves as an Editorial Board member for the journal Environmental Health, and as a reviewer for numerous journals, including JAMA, Environmental Health Perspectives, the American Journal of Epidemiology and the American Journal of Public Health. She has served on grant review panels for the National Institutes of Health. She is also a breast-feeding educator and served on the strategic planning committee for the Aidan Montessori School in Washington, D.C.
- Health Effects of Agricultural Work
- Pesticide Exposure
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