Wendy Heiger-Bernays

Faculty Research Fellow
Associate Professor, Environmental Health

Integrating Science, Health and Policy to Engineer Global Sustainable Water Access

Global sustainable water management efforts are hampered by technological limitations, insufficient health risk assessments, and untenable policy solutions that lack public support. Access to pathogen-free water is a challenge in rapidly urbanized developing nations where underdeveloped infrastructure encourages water stagnation and microorganism growth. Compounding these issues, both industrialized and developing cities suffer water scarcity (an early implication of climate change) and are investigating water resource management solutions such as recycled water, but technological failure of such water reuse systems could lead to drinking water contamination of pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs known in the water supply. The team is developing novel materials and processes for the degradation of such potential contaminants in water for household to industrial scale use in developing and industrialized urban areas. Laboratory results will inform a risk assessment model to predict the impact their technology would have on reducing human health risk due to exposure to a suite of pharmaceutical compounds. They will conduct an original survey, interviews, and use case study research to understand factors influencing support for water reuse policies, and gauge the ability to sway public opinion with information about technological developments that protect both human health and water resources across developing and industrialized populations.


PhD, University of Nebraska; BS, University of Connecticut


Wendy Heiger-Bernays is on the faculty of the Department of Environmental Health at the Boston University School of Public Health. Her work reflects her education in molecular toxicology and her professional experience in regulatory toxicology and risk assessment. Her interests center on understanding how environmental hazards adversely affect people’s health and how risks associated with these exposures can be quantified and decreased. As part of the Research Translation Core of the Boston University Superfund Research Program, she works with the scientific projects leads and regulatory environmental and health organization to use the science to inform policy and practice. She collaborates with other researchers to understand patterns of migration of contaminants in municipal compost and soils in urban gardens and risks associated with these agents, with the objective of translating this research into cost-effective best practices. As a member of a multi-disciplinary team she is investigating the properties that impact human health and that limit the installation of on-shore large wind-turbines. Heiger-Bernays is a member of the BUSPH team investigating flame retardants in which she is focusing on understanding the risks associated with exposure to the chemicals. She also serves on technical advisory committees for toxicological and environmental health issues at both the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the US Environmental Protection Agency and as Chair of her local board of health.