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Investigators and Program Directors

image of Michele Caggana

Patrick J. Parsons

Deputy Director, Wadsworth Center, Division of Environmental
Health Sciences

Lab Chief, Wadsworth Center, Laboratory of Inorganic & Nuclear Chemistry

Professor and Chair, University at Albany, School of Public Health, Environmental Health Sciences

Faculty Member, Wadsworth School of Laboratory Sciences

Ph.D. University of London, England
Postdoctoral Training, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD


Lead deposition in a cross section of caprine tibia (goat shin bone), measured using an experimental X-ray fluorescence instrument developed in collaboration with XOS® Inc., East Greenbush, NY. The left edge is the outer bone surface and the right edge the inner surface. This image shows how lead is highly enriched at the outer bone surface and in discrete ‘hot spots’. (Bellis et al., 2009).

Research Interests

Dr. Parsons’ laboratory specializes in measuring trace elements in human tissues and body fluids using techniques based on inorganic mass spectrometry. The lab is developing new analytical methods for use in human biomonitoring studies (with CDC grant funding), wherein the primary goal is to assess internal exposure (or dose) typically by analyzing blood or urine, or another tissue for trace element content.  These studies are important for understanding the biochemical role of essential elements, such as Cu, Se and Zn, and monitoring human exposure to non-essential toxic elements such as Pb, Cd, Hg and As.

The laboratory is also interested in assessing the physiologic distribution of lead in bone. Recent work by the team, has focused on producing well-characterized bone reference materials certified for lead content that can be used to validate techniques based on graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry (GFAAS), inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), as well as K-shell X-ray fluorescence (XRF) instrumentation that is used for non-invasive, in vivo bone lead measurements. Although the total elemental content is useful, speciation methods can provide a much more detailed picture of how some trace elements behave. For example, the lab has been working with the US National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and the CDC on a speciation method for Hg in blood that can distinguish and quantitate methylmercury, ethylmercury and inorganic Hg.  The method is based on coupling GC to ICP-MS with stable isotope dilution analysis. In a similar manner, the lab can analyze human urine for up to five arsenic species by coupling LC to ICP-MS.  The lab has five quadrupole ICP-MS instruments and six GFAAS dedicated to the analysis of clinical samples, and a Thermo Element 2 Sector Field ICP-MS that is currently being used to measure uranium isotope ratios in urine for a local biomonitoring study of residents and retired workers exposed to Depleted Uranium (DU).

While the research team's primary focus has been on analyzing body fluids using ICP-MS and GFAAS, the laboratory also has access to new prototype instrumentation based on monochromatic XRF as part of an on-going collaboration with X-Ray Optical Systems (XOS, East Greenbush).  One project involves assessing environmental exposure to Pb, As, and Hg among ethnic Chinese living in upstate NY, and is currently supported by NIEHS.  Dr. Parson s is also interested in studying the physiologic distribution of trace elements in bone, teeth and brain samples using Laser Ablation coupled to ICP-MS, with recent work focusing on developing calibration materials for quantification. Other research projects involve collaborations with investigators at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Mt Sinai School of Medicine, NICHD, SUNY Oswego, SUNY Albany, and the University of Cincinnati.  There is a long standing collaboration and student exchange program with the trace elements group at the Universidade de São Paulo – Ribeirão Preto, Brasil.  In addition to externally funded research studies, the laboratory also operates the New York State proficiency testing program for blood lead and trace elements. Well-characterized blood, serum and urine reference materials are developed and certified for trace element content , and the team has also worked with NIST to produce and certify SRM 955c Toxic Metals in Caprine Blood.

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Contact Information

Phone: 518-474-5475
Fax: 518-473-7586
Fax: 518-473-2895 (alternate fax)