Rolf Halden

Rolf Halden

Center Director & Professor, Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering


Rolf Halden, Ph.D., P.E., is director of the Center for Environmental Health Engineering at the Biodesign Institute, 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, Halden’s 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.

Halden’s 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 >100 peer-reviewed articles, 11 book chapters, 15 patent applications, 160 conference papers, and presented over 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 FDA’s Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee. 

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


Public Health, Water Quality, Environmental Proteomics, Bioremediation, Biological Treatment Processes, Environmental Chemistry, Exposure Assessment, Sustainability, Pollution Prevention, Green Chemistry, Green Engineering