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	worker wearing respirator, lab worker, lungs

Program Description

From its beginnings, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has had a strong focus on respiratory problems. Over the years, many parts of NIOSH have been involved in addressing occupational respiratory disease:

Appalachian Laboratory for Occupational Respiratory Diseases (ALFORD)

After NIOSH was created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970,1 ALFORD became part of the newly-formed organization. Located in the Appalachian coal mining region in Morgantown, West Virginia, ALFORD was responsible for coal workers' chest x-ray surveillance, autopsy studies, and research as specified in the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969.2

Appalachian Laboratory for Occupational Safety and Health (ALOSH) and the Division of Respiratory Disease Studies (DRDS)

As a result of reorganization, ALFORD became ALOSH in 1976. DRDS, a component of ALOSH, 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.

Division of Physical Sciences and Engineering (DPSE), Division of Biological and Behavioral Sciences (DBBS), and the Division of Applied Research and Technology (DART)

DPSE and DBBS were established in Cincinnati, Ohio, after passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. DPSE and 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 DART in 2000. DART continues to be a key focus within RDRP of expertise in exposure assessment, analytical methods development, and control technologies.

Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies (DSHEFS)

Also established in Cincinnati, Ohio, after passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, DSHEFS has conducted surveillance and numerous short-term and long-term field studies relevant to respiratory diseases. DSHEFS has made important contributions to understanding the adverse health effects of exposures such as asbestos, silica, and respiratory carcinogens.

Education and Information Division (EID)

EID was established in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1996. 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.

Health Effects Laboratory Division (HELD)

HELD was established in Morgantown, West Virginia, in 1995 and occupied a new 167,000 square-foot state-of-the-art research facility in 1996. HELD has extensive laboratory capabilities, including inhalation exposure facilities. Basic research conducted in HELD that is relevant to respiratory diseases includes: toxicology, molecular biology, pathology, immunology, engineering and exposure assessment.

Pittsburgh Research Laboratory (PRL) and Spokane Research Laboratory (SRL)

PLR and SRL were moved from the former Bureau of Mines to NIOSH in 1996. These laboratories are focused on mining safety and health. Their research programs have added substantially to the capacity and outputs of RDRP, particularly in the area of mining engineering control technology for respiratory hazards.

National Personal Protective Technologies Laboratory (NPPTL)

NPPTL was established in Bruceton, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh) on the same campus as PRL in 2001. After the formation of NIOSH in 1970, respirator certification and research activities were conducted at ALFORD. They were transferred to the Division of Safety Research (DSR), a component of ALOSH, in 1976, to DRDS in 1997, and to NPPTL in 2001. NPPTL has assumed responsibilities in the broad area of personal protective technologies, including respiratory protection, and is an international leader in this area.3

Respiratory Diseases Research Program (RDRP)

RDRP was developed as a cross-cutting organizational unit over the period between 2004 and 2006. It functions to coordinate NIOSH efforts to prevent occupational respiratory diseases and to encourage multidisciplinary cooperation and collaboration by all elements of NIOSH in this ongoing effort.4 RDRP is organized according to adverse respiratory health outcomes, which occur in every industrial sector:5 airways diseases (e.g., asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease [COPD]); interstitial lung diseases (e.g., coal workers’ pneumoconiosis [CWP], asbestosis, silicosis, berylliosis); respiratory infectious diseases (e.g., tuberculosis, avian and pandemic influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS], anthrax); respiratory malignancies; and potential adverse health effects that may be associated with exposures to nanomaterials and nanoparticles.


The vision of RDRP is to deliver the nation's promise: respiratory health and safety at work for all people through research and prevention.


The mission of RDRP is to provide national and international leadership for the prevention of work-related respiratory diseases. RDRP uses a scientific approach to gather and synthesize information, create knowledge, provide recommendations and deliver products and services to those who can effect prevention. The program strives to fulfill its mission through the following principles:

  • High-Quality Research: RDRP will continually strive for high quality research and prevention activities that will lead to reductions in occupational injuries and illnesses among workers in all industrial sectors.
  • Practical Solutions: The RDR program is committed to the development of practical solutions to the complex problems that cause occupational diseases, injuries, and fatalities among workers in this sector. One source of practical recommendations is the NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluations (HHE) program. NIOSH conducts HHEs at specific worksites to determine if health hazards to employees can be attributed to the workplace environment.
  • Partnerships: We recognize that collaborative efforts in partnership with labor, industry, government, and other stakeholders are usually the best means of achieving successful outcomes. Fostering these partnerships is a cornerstone of the NIOSH RDR program cross-sector.
  • Research to Practice (r2p): We believe that our research only realizes its true value when put into practice. Every research project within the NIOSH program for the Respiratory Diseases (RDR) formulates a strategy to promote the transfer and translation of research findings into prevention practices and products that will be adopted in the workplace.

We apply these important principles both to intramural research that is conducted within NIOSH and to extramural research that is funded by NIOSH but conducted by others. Our priorities are guided by our core mission and by considerations such as surveillance data and stakeholder input that document the need for research. To assure high quality, our projects are subjected to rigorous scientific peer review from inception to completion. To assure coordination, we actively communicate across organizational lines and with our extramural partners. In all our efforts, we seek to optimize the quality, relevance, and impact of NIOSH-funded activities in the RDR cross-sector.

Strategic Goals

The strategic goals of the Respiratory Diseases Research Program are to:

  • Prevent and reduce work-related airways diseases
  • Prevent and reduce work-related interstitial lung diseases
  • Prevent and reduce work-related respiratory infectious diseases
  • Prevent and reduce work-related respiratory malignancies
  • Prevent respiratory and other diseases potentially resulting from occupational exposures to nanomaterials


  1. OSH Act of 1970
  2. Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969
  3. NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory: Providing Personal Protective Technology Innovations for the 21st Century (24 pages, 874 KB)
  4. Overview of the Respiratory Diseases Research Program (21 pages, 633 KB)
    A presentation by David Weissman, MD, program manager, October 26, 2006
  5. NORA Sector Councils