This month I’m pleased to share with you that 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of occupational respiratory disease research at the NIOSH facility in Morgantown. In 1967 the Appalachian Laboratory for Occupational Respiratory Disease (ALFORD) was established within the U.S. Public Health Service, and in 1971 it became part of NIOSH. In 1977 ALFORD was renamed the Division of Respiratory Disease Studies (DRDS), which is now the Respiratory Health Division (RHD).
Respiratory health research conducted at the Morgantown facility was transformed by the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 (Coal Act) and its entry into NIOSH after the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act). The Coal Act assigned official responsibilities for research and service to prevent coal mine dust–induced lung disease, and these are still relevant and important today. The OSH Act and affiliation with NIOSH expanded ALFORD’s mission to advance prevention of work-related respiratory disease across the spectrum of occupations and industries. This also continues be a very important focus for NIOSH, since work-related respiratory disease continues to be one of the most important work-related health issues.
Over the years, NIOSH has made great impacts in addressing occupational respiratory disease issues by working in partnership with industry; labor; academia; federal, state, and local government agencies; and others. NIOSH’s efforts include these examples:
- Assisting workplaces through the Health Hazard Evaluation Program
- Providing health surveillance to coal miners;
- Tracking the burden of work-related respiratory disease through a program of national surveillance and partnerships with states
- Conducting innovative research addressing many respiratory hazards, including coal mine dust, silica, nylon flock, flavoring chemicals, indium, beryllium, and indoor environmental quality
- Ensuring that the nation has access to tools for identifying occupational respiratory disease, including classification of chest radiographs and high quality spirometry.
In reflecting on past accomplishments and planning for the future, NIOSH is co-sponsoring an occupational respiratory symposium on August 10, 2017, with West Virginia University (WVU), a long-time partner celebrating its own 25th anniversary of the WVU Occupational Medicine Training Program. The symposium will be held in WVU’s Health Sciences Center and will bring together a multidisciplinary group of occupational health scientists to discuss local and national issues related to prevention of occupational respiratory disease. Further information on the symposium is posted on NIOSH’s new Respiratory Health at Work website, which also provides up-to-date information and links to various programs within RHD and from across NIOSH. You can also follow RHD on Twitter at @NIOSHbreathe. I invite you to participate in the event!