The NIEHS budget is approximately $800 million, of which about 40 percent goes to funding investigator-initiated research and centers research in institutions outside of the NIEHS. Another third of the budget goes to funding the NIEHS’s intramural labs, which focus on a variety of molecular toxicological questions as well as some substantial epidemiology studies.
Within those areas of research, Balbus said, the institute has a long history of air pollution research. “We have funded many of the fundamental air pollution studies that inform current risk assessment models,” he said. “We continue to look at an ever-widening range of health impacts, so that is a core area which has been our strength and will, I think, continue to be an area where we will contribute.”
By contrast, the NIEHS is relatively new to research on climate change impacts. During the past 3 years, it has been leading the development of a pilot funding program at NIH that aims to build a community of health researchers focused on the impacts of climate change. “One of the things that is important about our climate change impact research program,” Balbus said, “is that not only does it focus on what happens from changes in weather, precipitation, and climate, but it also explicitly includes the health implications of measures taken to either mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gases or to adapt to climate change impacts.” For example, the program examines how measures such as changes in types of fuel or changes in housing impact health.
Out of the 14 or so grants that are now being funded in the NIEHS climate change program, two are looking at the implications of climate change policies. One is examining the health implications of air conditioning use and, in particular, of increasing air conditioning use in the Midwest, while the other is looking at changes in housing insulation and housing stock and what those changes imply for the rates of heat stress and heat mortality.
Another NIEHS program that may be of interest to those assessing biofuels-related impacts is the National Toxicology Program (NTP). That program’s mission, Balbus said, is to support the EPA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and other agencies by carrying out gold-standard toxicological investigations, developing of new methods, and other projects. A new research project there is focused on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. It is important to know the properties of these cancer-causing chemicals for use in analyses of various petrochemical issues, but knowledge about them could also inform analyses of biofuels-related issues. The NTP accepts nominations for toxicologic analysis of substances