NIH News Advisory

National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences

Friday, August 23, 2002
Contacts: Bill Grigg, (301) 402-3378
Tom Hawkins, (919) 541-1402

Public Health Report Stresses Worker Protection
As Key Component of Homeland Security

The federal government must help train emergency personnel and provide updated safety guidelines so the workers are better protected against hazards such as they faced at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to a public health workshop report released today by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a component of the federal National Institutes of Health.

The report, "Learning from Disasters: Weapons of Mass Destruction Preparedness Through Worker Training," summarizes the findings of an NIEHS Worker Education and Training Program technical workshop that brought together national experts involved in the recent terrorist attacks with those providing the emergency response and cleanup around weapons of mass destruction.

The report is available on-line at It says there were many deficiencies in the protection of rescue and other workers that resulted in needless injuries, particularly to eyes and lungs, as they faced the catastrophic structural failures at Oklahoma City and later, on September 11 of last year, at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. The last "was so massive, extensive in duration and complex that nearly all aspects of our well developed and relatively mature destructive incident response and cleanup operations plans were challenged and, in many cases, found defective in some measure."

Improvements recommended in the report include:

The report concludes with recommended elements of a training preparedness initiative by the NIEHS Worker Education and Training Program. For more information on the kinds of follow-up studies being conducted on rescue and other workers and on residents and workers nearby, see press release "HHS Awards" at

About the NIEHS WETP
The NIEHS WETP was created in 1987 by Congress as part of the Superfund Program to support the development of a network of non-profit organizations that are committed to protecting workers and their communities by creating and delivering high-quality, peer-reviewed safety and health curricula to target populations of hazardous waste workers and emergency responders. Through NIH extramural grants, WETP supports the development of curricula and training programs throughout the country to help employers meet OSHA requirements under 29 CFR 1910.120, Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response.

Joseph T. (Chip) Hughes Jr. is the director of NIEHS WETP. He is available for interviews at (919) 541-0217.

The NIEHS report is one of several initiatives underway in the Department of Health and Human Services to better protect emergency response workers from injury and death in the line of duty. It complements recent activities by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, including issuance of new criteria for certifying respirators used by emergency responders against chemical, biological, and radiological exposures. The agency also issued a report last March on personal protective equipment needs.