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NIOSH Respiratory Diseases Research Program

Evidence Package for the National Academies' Review 2006-2007

NIOSH Programs > Respiratory Diseases > Evidence Package > 2. Introduction to the Program

2.2 History

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RDRP cuts across essentially all of NIOSH. Thus, the history of RDRP parallels the history of NIOSH itself. As noted in chapter 1, from its very beginnings, NIOSH has had a strong focus on the respiratory problems of coal miners. After the creation of NIOSH by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Appalachian Laboratory for Occupational Respiratory Diseases (ALFORD) became part of the newly-formed organization. Located in the Appalachian coal mining region in Morgantown, WV, ALFORD had earlier assumed responsibilities for coal workers’ chest x-ray surveillance, autopsy studies, and research as specified in the Coal Act of 1969. ALFORD subsequently became the Appalachian Laboratory for Occupational Safety and Health (ALOSH) in 1976. One component of ALOSH, the Division of Respiratory Disease Studies (DRDS), assumed ALFORD’s responsibilities for research and prevention of respiratory diseases in coal miners and has continued activities in this area, as well as other areas of occupational respiratory disease, to the present.

As a result of the Coal Act, respirator certification and research have also been an important focus from the very beginning of NIOSH. This work was initially conducted at ALFORD and then transferred to the Division of Safety Research (DSR), a component of ALOSH, in 1976. As the result of reorganization, from 1997 through 2001 this activity was based in DRDS. It moved to the newly-created NPPTL in Bruceton, PA (near Pittsburgh) in 2001. NPPTL is now the leading RDRP resource in respiratory protection.

RDRP components in Cincinnati, OH, were also created after the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Among their other contributions, the Division of Physical Sciences and Engineering (DPSE) and the Division of Biological and Behavioral Sciences (DBBS) both made important contributions to the development of analytical capabilities and the NIOSH Manual of Analytical Methods (NMAM). DPSE and DBBS were combined to form a new Division of Applied Research and Technology (DART) in 2000. DART continues to be a key focus within RDRP of expertise in exposure assessment, analytical methods development, and control technologies. Another key group based in Cincinnati from the beginnings of NIOSH is the Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies (DSHEFS). The Hazard Evaluation and Technical Assistance Branch and Industry-Wide Studies Branch of DSHEFS have conducted numerous short-term and long-term field studies relevant to respiratory diseases, respectively. DSHEFS has made important contributions in understanding the adverse health effects of exposures such as asbestos, silica, and respiratory carcinogens. Another key RDRP component established in Cincinnati in 1996 is the Education and Information Division (EID). This group plays a critical role in conducting the risk assessments needed as the basis for authoritative recommendations and in coordinating development of documents making authoritative recommendations. EID also plays a vital role in health communications both via traditional media and via the newer electronic media.

Two key RDRP elements were added to NIOSH in 1996. The newly-created HELD occupying a new 167,000 square-foot research facility. HELD is the NIOSH focus for basic bench laboratory research, including much basic toxicology research relevant to respiratory diseases. It also conducts engineering and exposure assessment research relevant to respiratory diseases. It is the only component of RDRP with the ability to conduct in-house studies involving the use of laboratory animals.

Also in 1996, the Pittsburgh Research Laboratory (PRL) and the Spokane Research Laboratory (SRL) were added to NIOSH when components of the former U.S. Bureau of Mines were administratively assigned to NIOSH that year. These mining-focused research groups have added substantially to the capacity and outputs of RDRP, particularly in the area of mining engineering control technology for respiratory hazards.