evolving toxicology information. Thus, health professionals need ready access to toxicology and environmental health information resources to assist them with patient care. Policymakers, health advisors, researchers, health educators, and the general public also need access to this information as they pursue their own inquiries.
Established in 1956, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) was charged with improving the nation's health by collecting and providing access to the world's biomedical literature. In 1967, NLM established a specialized information program on toxicology and environmental health known today as the Toxicology and Environmental Health Information Program (TEHIP). Its mission is to provide selected core information resources and services, facilitate access to national and international information resources, and strengthen the infrastructure for toxicology and environmental health information.
In 1995, at the request of NLM, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) formed the Committee on Toxicology and Environmental Health Information Resources for Health Professionals. The committee was charged with examining the utility and accessibility2 of NLM's TEHIP program for the work of health professionals. It was asked to consider the current toxicology and environmental health information needs of health professionals and how those needs are currently being met. The committee conducted an 18-month study and received extensive input from health professionals representing a range of disciplines and expertise. These individuals met with the committee, participated in one of four focus group sessions at a committee workshop, or responded to a questionnaire developed by the committee. Additionally, NLM staff members provided the committee with information about the databases and ongoing research and development efforts at NLM.
Both the public health effects of hazardous substances and the changing trends in health care are reinforcing the need for authoritative and easily accessible information in the fields of toxicology and environmental health. Pathways of human exposure to chemicals in the environment are diverse. Chemicals in air, food, water, and soil can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed in any number of settings. Vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, the chronically ill, minorities, and the poor may be at increased risk of harm related to environmental contamination because of biologic and demographic factors, including where they live.