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Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Toxicology and Environmental Health Information Resources for Health Professionals; Liverman CT, Ingalls CE, Fulco CE, et al., editors. Toxicology and Environmental Health Information Resources: The Role of the National Library of Medicine. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1997.

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Toxicology and Environmental Health Information Resources: The Role of the National Library of Medicine.

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3Other Toxicology and Environmental Health Information Services

The TEHIP databases represent only a small subset of the numerous databases containing information related to toxicology and environmental health. This chapter discusses some of the other toxicology and environmental health information resources currently available and describes a role for NLM in providing access to this information.

Responsibilities for research, regulation, and risk communication on environmental health issues are fragmented between numerous local, state, and federal government agencies, international organizations, industry, and other private-sector businesses. As a result, numerous databases that are relevant to fulfilling each organization's specific environmental health mission or goals have been developed. As seen in Figure 3.1, responsibility for the federal government's involvement in environmental health spans numerous jurisdictions and boundaries, including most federal departments and many agencies. The cross-cutting nature of environmental health issues can be seen in the range of concerns that federal agencies are mandated to address, for example:

FIGURE 3.1. Executive branch departments and agencies involved in environmental health issues.


Executive branch departments and agencies involved in environmental health issues. NOTE: ATSDR=Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry; CDC=Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CPSC=Consumer Product Safety Commission; EPA=Environmental (more...)

  • Populations and individuals exposed to potential hazards through occupational, environmental, and accidental exposures. Responsible agencies include the U.S. Departments of Defense (DoD), Energy (DoE), Health and Human Services (DHHS), Labor, Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
  • Manufacture, use, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous chemicals. Responsible agencies include the U.S. Departments of Commerce (DoC), DoD, DoE, Transportation (DoT), EPA, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • Exposure pathways (including air, water, and soil). Responsible agencies include the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (DoA), Interior (DoI), DoC, and EPA.

Additionally, environmental health concerns are often specific to a localized region or a particular population, because, for example, of a chemical spill (e.g., Superfund sites) or an occupational exposure. As a result significant sources of data at the state and local levels are incorporated into databases. Many authoritative international sources of toxicology and environmental health information are also available, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the International Labour Office's Occupational Safety and Health Information Centre, and the United Nations Environmental Programme. The private-sector is also involved in the development of online factual and bibliographic databases related to toxicology and environmental health.

Each agency, organization, or business collects and organizes information specific to its mission and develops online databases each with its own focus, search language, and unique database fields and input methodologies. Generally, there is no standardization of data collection, storage, analysis, retrieval, or reporting of environmental health data across the federal government or between the private and public sectors (Sexton et al., 1992). Database software and search interfaces use diverse computer operating systems that are frequently incompatible (Lu and Wassom, 1992). Thus, the challenges to health professionals and other interested users of environmental health information are, first, to be aware of and locate the database(s) that contains the information to address their question; second, to have the proper computer connection to the database(s); and finally, to understand the background and nature of the information, including the implications of data collection methodologies.

Table 3.1 lists only a sample of the toxicology and environmental health databases available. It focuses primarily on federal government databases and is not a comprehensive list, but rather serves to illustrate the number and diversity of information resources available in this field (see also EPA et al., 1992; Wexler, 1988). Additionally, it should be noted that there are a rapidly expanding number of Internet Web sites that compile information on this field and that aim to provide information to diverse audiences including advocacy groups and the general public.

TABLE 3.1. Sample of Current Toxicology and Environmental Health Databases.


Sample of Current Toxicology and Environmental Health Databases.

It is not within the scope of this report to address the plethora of issues that would be involved in attempting to coordinate the development and management of environmental health databases at the federal level or beyond. The committee is aware of several ongoing coordination efforts within the federal government. The DHHS Data Council is addressing issues relevant to the coordination of health and nonhealth data collection and data analysis activities within DHHS, including coordinating health data standards.

Additionally, DHHS has an interagency Environmental Health Policy Committee (EHPC) that focuses on the coordination of environmental health policy and programs. There are liaison members to EHPC from six other federal agencies and departments. One subcommittee of EHPC is specifically examining environmental health information issues. Currently, NLM has a representative on EHPC, but NLM is not represented on the subcommittee on environmental health information issues. The committee believes that is important for NLM, and specifically, the staff of the TEHIP program, to be involved in these coordination efforts, particularly those focused on information issues.

One model for coordination efforts is the ongoing development and implementation of the National Environmental Data Index (NEDI). NEDI is an element of the National Information Infrastructure and is designed to provide distributed access to existing environmental information systems with the goal of facilitating access to this information by the general public the scientific community, government, and industry (NEDI, 1996). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is leading the implementation of NEDI on the Internet with the cooperative efforts of DoA, DoC, DoD, DoE, and DoI, as well as EPA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Science Foundation (see Chapter 7).


Although the committee's charge did not include the compilation of information on all of the toxicology and environmental health information resources, in assembling Table 3.1, the committee noted the vast extent of available information in toxicology and environmental health, as well as its utility to health professionals. Unfortunately, because of the diffuse sources of environmental health information and the disparate manner in which data are collected, the multitude of databases may not be known or easily available to those who would benefit from this information.

Thus, the committee believes that it is important for NLM to carry out the traditional and expert role of a library by organizing (cataloging) online information resources in toxicology and environmental health beyond the TEHIP databases and increasing health professionals' and other interested users' awareness of the relevant resources. Comparable to cataloging books and journals on toxicology and environmental health, the committee believes NLM's role should include a cataloging of databases and other online information resources in this field. By providing users with information on non-NLM resources (e.g., a description of the information resource and its access points), NLM will be delivering the valuable library service of providing users with the information needed to access the most relevant resource available. One ongoing project with this emphasis is TEHIP's Internet World Wide Web page with links to other toxicology and environmental health-related information resources both within the federal government and internationally. This emphasis on the broad spectrum of information resources in toxicology and environmental health could also be included as an integral part of the TEHIP program's training and outreach activities (Chapter 5), making these activities an education on the realm of information resources in this area. In order to carry out this role effectively, it will be necessary to incorporate an evaluation mechanism and to consider the funding required to implement this recommendation.

The committee recommends that NLM consider expanding its traditional library services in toxicology and environmental health by organizing and cataloging the full spectrum of online toxicology and environmental health information resources.


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  2. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). CDC Wonder. Nov, 1996. http://wonder​ .
  3. DoD (U.S. Department of Defense). Denix: Defense Environmental Network and Information Exchange. Nov, 1996. http://denix​​.mil/denix/denix.html .
  4. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). An Overview of ERNS. Washington, DC: Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, EPA; 1995.
  5. EPA, Centers for Disease Control, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Inventory of Exposure-Related Data Systems Sponsored by Federal Agencies. EPA Publication No. EPA/600/R-92/078. Eastern Research Group, Inc.; Lexington, MA: 1992.
  6. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). Global Emergency Management System. Nov, 1996. http://www​ .
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  8. NCI (National Cancer Institute). CancerNet. Nov, 1996. http://www​ .
  9. NEDI (National Environmental Data Index). National Environmental Data Index. Nov, 1996. http://esdim​ .
  10. NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences). National Toxicology Program Chemical Health and Safety Data. Nov, 1996. http://ntp-db​.niehs.nih​.gov/Main_pages/Chem-HS.HTML .
  11. NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). RTECS. Nov, 1996. http://www​ .
  12. NLM (National Library of Medicine). NLM Online Databases and Databanks. Nov, 1996. http://www​​/publications/factsheets​/online_databases.html .
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  15. Heidelberg S. ECDIN CD-ROM. Nov, 1996. http://www​​/newmedia/chemist/gg/ecdin.htm .
  16. University of Washington. TERIS: Teratogen Information System. Nov, 1996. http://weber​.u.washington​.edu/∼terisweb​/teris/index.html .
  17. Wexler P. Information Resources in Toxicology. 2nd edition. New York: Elsevier; 1988.
  18. WHO (World Health Organization). GEENET Home Page. Nov, 1996. http://who​ .
Copyright © 1997, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK45479


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