American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) President Gayla J. McCluskey, CIH, CSP, ROH, QEP, wrote the chair of the House budget subcommittee charged with funding NIOSH last week, urging adequate appropriations in fiscal year 2004 for the perennially strapped agency.

"While AIHA respects the enormous budget challenges faced by the administration brought about by the extraordinary events presently and over the last few years, ( i.e., the ongoing war with Iraq, WTC attacks, the war on terrorism, anthrax threats), we also feel that NIOSH has done its part in 'holding the line' on federal appropriations at a time when the mission of NIOSH is so vital," wrote McCluskey.

In FY03, NIOSH was appropriated $273.4 million - compared to an FY02 appropriation of approximately $276 million. AIHA wants Congress to maintain the agency and its existing programs at the current funding level of $273.4 million for FY04, plus inflationary increases. It also proposes that Congress budget an extra $15 million to support the NIOSH's efforts to protect American workers against terrorist attacks and their vulnerability to chemical and biological agents.

The additional money would help NIOSH:

  • Staff its Office of Emergency Response and Preparedness activities. Recently created and based in Atlanta, Ga., the mission of the office is to coordinate and oversee homeland security-related efforts for the agency. But according to AIHA, there is only one individual who serves as Assistant Director at the office thus far.

  • Respond to greater workforce/workplace demands for NIOSH prevention and outbreak investigations. NIOSH's Health Hazard and Evaluation Programs (HHEs) have been central to the public health response to terrorist attacks by providing state-of-the-art methods for assessing exposure, raising awareness of occupational health concerns among emergency responders, and developing strategies to improve preparedness for future events, says AIHA. But in the wake of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, the HHE program has been severely taxed as the demand for these investigations has risen.

  • Support research efforts at the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technologies Lab (NPPTL). In FY2001, Congress allocated funds to support the long-term development of standards and technologies for protecting the health and safety of America's workers who rely on personal protective equipment (i.e., respirators, clothing, gloves). The lab is NIOSH's principal engine for research on terrorism preparedness, according to AIHA. The responder community has called on NIOSH to certify respirators against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) hazards related to terrorism. With more funding, AIHA argues that the NIOSH lab can expedite work on its new CBRN certification standards for escape hoods, and other types of respirators.

  • Develop and expand guidance resources for business emergency planning. NIOSH has begun to address this need by compiling relevant information and making it available through a dedicated Web page on its Internet site, and through issue-specific pamphlets for use by business owners and employees. Further financial support will allow NIOSH to more effectively respond to the public's continued need for guidance in this area, says AIHA.