By Chris Adams

John Bucher, a top official in the National Toxicology Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, explains how his agency studies what goes into the air and water and how it affects the people who breathe and drink it.

The institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, was established in 1966 to study which substances have toxic effects on people.

Through grants and direct research, the institute seeks to understand the biological pathways by which substances in the environment impact animals and humans – and at what stages of an organism’s life cycle. It also studies how the combined effects of different substances work in concert to affect humans.

The institute in recent years has studied everything from children’s chemical exposure to dietary supplements to chronic fatigue syndrome, Bucher told National Press Foundation fellows.

The toxicology program’s ongoing Report on Carcinogens, for example, is a congressionally mandated report that identifies agents, substances, mixtures or exposures in the environment that pose a hazard to people residing in the United States. The report (history here) is continually updated and becomes a key resource for decision-makers looking to regulate substances that come into contact with the environment and the people who depend on it.

The toxicology program has 600-700 grants open at any one time.