Rolf Halden

Biodesign EHE
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Arizona State University

Location: TEMPE

Contact Information
(480) 727-0893


  • Postdoctoral Fellow. Environmental Science, University of California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, CA 1998
  • Ph.D. Civil (Environmental) Engineering, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 1997
  • M.S. Civil (Environmental) Engineering, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 1994
  • M.S. (Diploma). Biology, Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany 1992

Research Interests

Halden's research explores the connection between anthropogenic activities, environmental quality and human health. His research relies heavily on the use of mass spectrometric tools (e.g., LC-MS/MS, MALDI-TOF) for applications in environmental proteomics, bioremediation and public health engineering. Ongoing projects focus on:

Urban Metabolism & the Human Health Observatory
We are maintaining a U.S. national and are creating an international monitoring network for public health using wastewater treatment plants as public health observatories to identify healt risks and track the success of public health interventions.

Health Effects of Human Exposure to Toxic Pollutants
We are studying the extent of human exposure to toxic pollutants and their associated health effects by examining biological specimens from adults and children.

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) in the Environment
We are determining the fate of PPCPs in the environment, beginning with a characterization of sources such as wastewater treatment plants and ending with the characterization of the human body burden and biomarkers of exposure.

Bioremediation of Environmental Contaminants
We are conducting research and also are supporting full-scale field deployments of bioremediation strategies for the removal of toxic pollutants from impacted soil and groundwater environments. This work includes the development of novel diagnostic devices for groundwater monitoring and remedial design.

Environmental Proteomics
We are developing and applying proteomics techniques for the detection and characterization of microorganisms providing ecological services or posing public health threats. Instrumentation utilized includes liquid chromatography coupled to robotic spotters for matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (LC-MALDI) analysis, and electro spray ionization (ESI) tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS). Our laboratory features triple quadrupole and time-of-flight (TOF/TOF) mass analyzers.


Rolf Halden is director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering, professor in the Ira A. Fulton School for Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, and senior sustainability scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University.

Halden is a noted expert in determining where in the environment mass-produced chemicals wind up, their impact on health, and how to remove them from contaminated water resources, aquifers and agricultural soils. Toxins of interest include dioxins, anti-bacterial products, pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), organohalides, problematic plastics and their additives, as well as pesticides  all having potential health impacts, including adverse birth outcomes, inflammation and increased risk of cancer.

In his research, Halden detected antimicrobial additives of personal care products, used as far back as the 1960s, to persist to this day in estuarine sediments along the East Coast. In 2004, his team first discovered triclocarban as a pollutant of the U.S. environment nationwide. In multiple invited presentations, Halden has provided scientific updates on environmental and human health concerns associated with antimicrobial compounds to the FDA, EPA, the National Academies and U.S. Congress.

An inventor, Halden has developed several patented and patent-pending technologies to monitor toxins in groundwater and to determine the best way of removing them from precious drinking water resources by using naturally occurring microorganisms. One invention, the In Situ Microcosm Array (ISMA) device, is a self-contained, field deployable lab-to-go, suitable for conducting multiple sediment column experiments simultaneously in the subsurface.

In addition to toxins in wastewater, Haldens team is researching the emission of toxic dioxin into U.S. air from incineration of triclosan-laden municipal sludge, or biosolids, and, in a related study, completed the first whole-genome sequencing of a naturally occurring bacterium uniquely capable of using toxic dioxins as a food source.

While investigating the burden of toxic chemicals in the human body, Halden and collaborators completed a global assessment of contaminants and proteins detectable in umbilical cord blood to better understand the fetal health risks from in utero exposures to tobacco constituents from maternal smoking and to other environmental toxins. This work yielded the first map of hundreds of proteins detectable in human cord blood and singled out more than a dozen interesting biomarker candidates of toxic exposures and effect.

Haldens research found common pesticides in cord blood, suggesting that pregnant women receive regular, chronic exposures, which may perturb fetal development. He is part of an ASU team studying the potential health risks of engineered nanomaterials in water, food, commercial products and biological samples.

Prior to his work at ASU, Halden was at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD, where he served as a co-founding member of the Center for Water and Health. He maintains an adjunct faculty appointment at Hopkins in the Department of Environment Health Sciences. Prior to joining academia, Halden was a project engineer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he directed the construction and operation of physical and biological groundwater treatment systems. 

In 2010, Halden edited a book for the American Chemical Society (ACS) entitled Contaminants of Emerging Concern: Ecotoxicological and Human Health Considerations, published by Oxford University Press. He has authored more than 180 peer-reviewed articles, 11 book chapters, 15 patent applications, 160 conference papers and presented more than 110 invited lectures and keynote addresses at national and international scientific symposia. Halden is a special government employee who provides expert advice to several governmental agencies, the National Research Council and the FDAs Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee. 

Halden received masters and doctoral degrees in civil engineering (with a concentration in environmental engineering) from the University of Minnesota and a masters in biology from the Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany. He is registered as a professional environmental engineer (PE) in Minnesota and Arizona.