Epidemiologic activities are inherently part of a comprehensive occupational and environmental health program. All the descriptive epidemiologic activities now scattered throughout the Department should be consolidated with the Department’s other health and safety activities.
The Panel recommends that the Department establish a strong, comprehensive program by restructuring and expanding the current Office of Environment, Safety and Health. This office should be restructured as the Office of Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety and continue to be directed by an Assistant Secretary. The office should contain a descriptive epidemiologic research component that includes a health surveillance system. When tightly linked with occupational and environmental health and safety activities, epidemiologic activities will give the Department another powerful tool to monitor day-to-day worker health, to measure the performance of health and safety activities, and to guide policy decisions.
A recurrent theme of witnesses at every meeting was a lack of credibility in the Department and its epidemiologic activities. The Panel believes that to restore public trust, to assure the highest scientific quality, and to assure the independence of investigators, the Department needs an independent system for managing its analytic epidemiologic research which can transcend changes in Departmental administrations. This can be achieved without statutory changes.
The Panel recommends that the Department enter quickly into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Health and Human Services to manage the Department’s analytic epidemiologic research. The Department of Energy would continue to allocate funds for analytic epidemiologic research and the Department of Health and Human Services would use its customary procedures for conducting scientific research, including peer review and open competition for research projects. This analytic research should be managed by one of the Department of Health and Human Services’ epidemiologic research agencies.
The quality of epidemiologic research rests heavily on the quality of the data used. Many different programs—industrial hygiene, health physics, environmental monitoring, and medical care—have kept their records separately and in various formats. The Panel recommends that the Department identify a standard minimum set of data, including health and exposure data, necessary for epidemiologic research. These data should be standardized throughout the Department and collected routinely at all facilities.
Scientific quality and public credibility are related to the degree of openness with which data are collected, maintained, and analyzed. The Panel values the benefits that flow from allowing independent scientists to examine and reexamine data from different perspectives. Therefore, the Panel recommends that the Department take specific steps toward opening its epidemiologic data to scientific investigators; for example, requiring documentation about data preparation and assumptions; removing personal identifiers from data sets; and establishing new procedures for the timely release of data.