Toxic Chemicals:

Long-Term Coordinated Strategy Needed to Measure Exposures in Humans

HEHS-00-80: Published: May 2, 2000. Publicly Released: May 2, 2000.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Janet Heinrich
(202) 512-3000
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed efforts to collect environmental health data, focusing on the: (1) extent to which states, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collect human exposure data on potentially harmful chemicals, including data to identify at-risk populations; and (2) main barriers hindering further progress in such efforts.

GAO noted that: (1) federal and state efforts to collect human exposure data are limited, despite some recent expansions; (2) HHS and EPA have been able to take advantage of improved technology to measure exposures for more people and for a broader range of chemicals; (3) still, with existing resources, HHS and EPA surveys together measure in the general population only about 6 percent of the more than 1,400 toxic chemicals in GAO's review; (4) for those toxic chemicals that GAO reviewed, the portion measured ranged from 2 percent of chemicals prioritized for safety testing to about 23 percent of those chemicals most often found at Superfund sites and considered to pose a significant threat to human health; (5) even for those chemicals that are measured, information is often insufficient to identify smaller population groups at high risk, such as children in inner cities and people living in polluted locations who may have particularly high exposures; (6) at the state level, efforts are similarly limited; (7) almost all state officials said they highly valued human exposure data for populations within their borders, and many provided specific examples of how such data have provided useful information for interpreting citizens' health risks and guiding public health actions; (8) three main barriers limit federal and state agencies' abilities to make more progress; (9) first, federal and state laboratories often lack the capacity to conduct measurements needed to collect human exposure data--additionally, for most of the chemicals on GAO's list, no laboratory method has been developed for measuring the chemical levels in human tissues; (10) the second barrier, particularly voiced by state officials, relates to the lack of information to help set test results in context; (11) public health officials said they need more information on typical exposures in the general population so that they can compare this information with people's levels at specific sites or with specific populations in their states; (12) they also said they needed more research to relate exposure levels to health effects for the chemicals of concern in their states; (13) the third barrier, of particular concern at the federal level, is that coordinated, long-term planning among federal agencies has been lacking, partly because of sporadic agency commitments to human exposure measurement and monitoring; and (14) HHS and EPA officials indicated that they have been discussing the merits of establishing a coordinated interagency human exposure program, but they have not yet formalized or agreed upon a long-term strategy.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and HHS have coordinated through a HHS/CDC/NCEH Working Group on Human Exposures, and developed a strategy for the monitoring and reporting of human exposure data through CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, including an annual report issued by CDC on human exposures, and a process for setting chemical priorities for monitoring. EPA is establishing a program addressing environmental public health outcomes, holding workshops with several public health agencies to help develop the research framework that would be complimentary to HHS' efforts, and to define opportunities for collaborations. EPA and CDC are considering co-funding an RFA to stimulate research as to approaches to develop and validate environmental public health measures.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator, EPA, should develop a coordinated federal strategy for the short- and long-term monitoring of human exposures to potentially toxic chemicals. In developing such a strategy, the Secretary and the Administrator should assess the need for an interagency program to collect and report data on human exposures, the extent surveys and agency efforts can be used as part of such an effort, and the funding needs and sources to sustain a viable program for monitoring human exposures to toxic substances. Such a strategy should address individual agency needs and expertise.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and HHS have coordinated through a HHS/CDC/NCEH Working Group on Human Exposures, and developed a strategy for the monitoring and reporting of human exposure data through CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, including an annual report issued by CDC on human exposures, and a process for setting chemical priorities for monitoring.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator, EPA, should develop a coordinated federal strategy for the short- and long-term monitoring of human exposures to potentially toxic chemicals. In developing such a strategy, the Secretary and the Administrator should assess the need for an interagency program to collect and report data on human exposures, the extent surveys and agency efforts can be used as part of such an effort, and the funding needs and sources to sustain a viable program for monitoring human exposures to toxic substances. Such a strategy should address individual agency needs and expertise.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and HHS have coordinated through a HHS/CDC/NCEH Working Group on Human Exposures, and developed a strategy for the monitoring and reporting of human exposure data through CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, including an annual report issued by CDC on human exposures, and a process for setting chemical priorities for monitoring. EPA is establishing a program addressing environmental public health outcomes, holding workshops with several public health agencies to help develop the research framework that would be complimentary to HHS' efforts, and to define opportunities for collaborations. EPA and CDC are considering co-funding an RFA to stimulate research as to approaches to develop and validate environmental public health measures.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator, EPA, should develop a coordinated federal strategy for the short- and long-term monitoring of human exposures to potentially toxic chemicals. In developing such a strategy, the Secretary and the Administrator should assess the need for an interagency program to collect and report data on human exposures, the extent surveys and agency efforts can be used as part of such an effort, and the funding needs and sources to sustain a viable program for monitoring human exposures to toxic substances. Such a strategy should provide a framework for coordinating efforts to gather data needed to improve understanding of human exposures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and HHS have coordinated through a HHS/CDC/NCEH Working Group on Human Exposures, and developed a strategy for the monitoring and reporting of human exposure data through CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, including an annual report issued by CDC on human exposures, and a process for setting chemical priorities for monitoring. EPA is establishing a program addressing environmental public health outcomes, holding workshops with several public health agencies to help develop the research framework that would be complimentary to HHS' efforts, and to define opportunities for collaborations. EPA and CDC are considering co-funding an RFA to stimulate research as to approaches to develop and validate environmental public health measures.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator, EPA, should develop a coordinated federal strategy for the short- and long-term monitoring of human exposures to potentially toxic chemicals. In developing such a strategy, the Secretary and the Administrator should assess the need for an interagency program to collect and report data on human exposures, the extent surveys and agency efforts can be used as part of such an effort, and the funding needs and sources to sustain a viable program for monitoring human exposures to toxic substances. Such a strategy should provide a framework for coordinating efforts to gather data needed to improve understanding of human exposures.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and HHS have coordinated through a HHS/CDC/NCEH Working Group on Human Exposures, and developed a strategy for the monitoring and reporting of human exposure data through CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, including an annual report issued by CDC on human exposures, and a process for setting chemical priorities for monitoring. Starting in fiscal year 2001, HHS/CDC announced the availability of funds for a grant program to promote planning for the development, implementation, and expansion of state-based biomonitoring programs to help prevent disease resulting from exposure to toxic substances.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator, EPA, should develop a coordinated federal strategy for the short- and long-term monitoring of human exposures to potentially toxic chemicals. In developing such a strategy, the Secretary and the Administrator should assess the need for an interagency program to collect and report data on human exposures, the extent surveys and agency efforts can be used as part of such an effort, and the funding needs and sources to sustain a viable program for monitoring human exposures to toxic substances. Such a strategy should assess needed federal and state laboratory capacity.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and HHS have coordinated through a HHS/CDC/NCEH Working Group on Human Exposures, and developed a strategy for the monitoring and reporting of human exposure data through CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, including an annual report issued by CDC on human exposures, and a process for setting chemical priorities for monitoring. To support state laboratory capacity for human exposure (biomonitoring) monitoring, HHS in 2001, announced the availability of grant funds to promote state planning for the development, implementation, and expansion of state-based biomonitoring programs to help prevent disease resulting from exposure to toxic substances.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator, EPA, should develop a coordinated federal strategy for the short- and long-term monitoring of human exposures to potentially toxic chemicals. In developing such a strategy, the Secretary and the Administrator should assess the need for an interagency program to collect and report data on human exposures, the extent surveys and agency efforts can be used as part of such an effort, and the funding needs and sources to sustain a viable program for monitoring human exposures to toxic substances. Such a strategy should assess needed federal and state laboratory capacity.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and HHS have coordinated through a HHS/CDC/NCEH Working Group on Human Exposures, and developed a strategy for the monitoring and reporting of human exposure data through CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. In March 2002, HHS issued a federal register notice with proposed criteria and a process for selecting chemicals for human exposure monitoring, and the process was finalized in a federal register notice dated October 2002. EPA has worked closely with CDC/HHS in the development of the chemical priority setting process, and plans to provide input on chemical monitoring priorities.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator, EPA, should develop a coordinated federal strategy for the short- and long-term monitoring of human exposures to potentially toxic chemicals. In developing such a strategy, the Secretary and the Administrator should assess the need for an interagency program to collect and report data on human exposures, the extent surveys and agency efforts can be used as part of such an effort, and the funding needs and sources to sustain a viable program for monitoring human exposures to toxic substances. Such a strategy should establish research priorities for laboratory methods development and a mechanism or process for setting chemical monitoring priorities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and HHS have coordinated through a HHS/CDC/NCEH Working Group on Human Exposures, and developed a strategy for the monitoring and reporting of human exposure data through CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. In March 2002, HHS issued a federal register notice with proposed criteria and a process for selecting chemicals for human exposure monitoring, and the process was finalized in a federal register notice dated September 2003. EPA has worked closely with CDC/HHS in the development of the chemical priority setting process, and plans to provide input on chemical monitoring priorities.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator, EPA, should develop a coordinated federal strategy for the short- and long-term monitoring of human exposures to potentially toxic chemicals. In developing such a strategy, the Secretary and the Administrator should assess the need for an interagency program to collect and report data on human exposures, the extent surveys and agency efforts can be used as part of such an effort, and the funding needs and sources to sustain a viable program for monitoring human exposures to toxic substances. Such a strategy should establish research priorities for laboratory methods development and a mechanism or process for setting chemical monitoring priorities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and HHS have coordinated through a HHS/CDC/NCEH Working Group on Human Exposures, and developed a strategy for the monitoring and reporting of human exposure data through CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, including an annual report issued by CDC on human exposures, and a process for setting chemical priorities for monitoring. The annual report expects for 2002 to include reports of human exposures for particular demographic groups, for example, by race, age, and sex. Such breakouts can help determine whether certain groups are at-risk.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator, EPA, should develop a coordinated federal strategy for the short- and long-term monitoring of human exposures to potentially toxic chemicals. In developing such a strategy, the Secretary and the Administrator should assess the need for an interagency program to collect and report data on human exposures, the extent surveys and agency efforts can be used as part of such an effort, and the funding needs and sources to sustain a viable program for monitoring human exposures to toxic substances. Such a strategy should develop a framework for identifying at-risk populations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and HHS have coordinated through a HHS/CDC/NCEH Working Group on Human Exposures, and developed a strategy for the monitoring and reporting of human exposure data through CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, including an annual report issued by CDC on human exposures, and a process for setting chemical priorities for monitoring. The annual report expects for 2002 to include reports of human exposures for particular demographic groups, for example, by race, age, and sex. Such breakouts can help determine whether certain groups are at-risk.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator, EPA, should develop a coordinated federal strategy for the short- and long-term monitoring of human exposures to potentially toxic chemicals. In developing such a strategy, the Secretary and the Administrator should assess the need for an interagency program to collect and report data on human exposures, the extent surveys and agency efforts can be used as part of such an effort, and the funding needs and sources to sustain a viable program for monitoring human exposures to toxic substances. Such a strategy should develop a framework for identifying at-risk populations.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and HHS have coordinated through a HHS/CDC/NCEH Working Group on Human Exposures, and developed a strategy for the monitoring and reporting of human exposure data through CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, including an annual report issued by CDC on human exposures, and a process for setting chemical priorities for monitoring. HHS/CDC, as part of its strategy for fiscal year 2001, offered a grant program to states and others to promote planning for the development, implementation, and expansion of state-based biomonitoring programs to help prevent disease resulting from exposures to toxic substances.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator, EPA, should develop a coordinated federal strategy for the short- and long-term monitoring of human exposures to potentially toxic chemicals. In developing such a strategy, the Secretary and the Administrator should assess the need for an interagency program to collect and report data on human exposures, the extent surveys and agency efforts can be used as part of such an effort, and the funding needs and sources to sustain a viable program for monitoring human exposures to toxic substances. Such a strategy should consider states' informational needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  12. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and HHS have coordinated through a HHS/CDC/NCEH Working Group on Human Exposures, and developed a strategy for the monitoring and reporting of human exposure data through CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, including an annual report issued by CDC on human exposures, and a process for setting chemical priorities for monitoring. HHS/CDC, as part of its strategy for fiscal year 2001, offered a grant program to states and others to promote planning for the development, implementation, and expansion of state-based biomonitoring programs to help prevent disease resulting from exposures to toxic substances.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator, EPA, should develop a coordinated federal strategy for the short- and long-term monitoring of human exposures to potentially toxic chemicals. In developing such a strategy, the Secretary and the Administrator should assess the need for an interagency program to collect and report data on human exposures, the extent surveys and agency efforts can be used as part of such an effort, and the funding needs and sources to sustain a viable program for monitoring human exposures to toxic substances. Such a strategy should consider states' informational needs.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  13. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA's Office of Environmental Information has worked closely with CDC on a potential cross-agency initiative to develop and link environmental and health information resources, specifically CDC's National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network, and EPA's National Environmental Information Exchange Network. The linkage seeks to enhance information technology tools to advance the analysis and dissemination of information obtained to various audiences. CDC and EPA signed an MOU related to this effort, which sets forth authorities, responsibilities, and procedures under which EPA and CDC will seek jointly to advance efforts to achieve mutual environmental public health goals. The MOU is effective September 30, 2002 - June 30, 2007.

    Recommendation: The agencies should identify common or complementary performance goals or measures to reduce, monitor, or develop methods for measuring human exposures to toxic chemicals. Such goals or measures can be a basis for structuring and supporting interagency collaborations to collect and use human exposure data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  14. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA's Office of Environmental Information has worked closely with CDC on a potential cross-agency initiative to develop and link environmental and health information resources, specifically CDC's National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network, and EPA's National Environmental Information Exchange Network. The linkage seeks to enhance information technology tools to advance the analysis and dissemination of information obtained to various audiences. CDC and EPA signed an MOU related to this effort, which sets forth authorities, responsibilities, and procedures under which EPA and CDC will seek jointly to advance efforts to achieve mutual environmental public health goals. The MOU is effective September 30, 2002 - June 30, 2007.

    Recommendation: The agencies should identify common or complementary performance goals or measures to reduce, monitor, or develop methods for measuring human exposures to toxic chemicals. Such goals or measures can be a basis for structuring and supporting interagency collaborations to collect and use human exposure data.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  15. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and HHS have coordinated through a HHS/CDC/NCEH Working Group on Human Exposures, and developed a strategy for the monitoring and reporting of human exposure data through CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, including an annual report issued by CDC on human exposures, and a process for setting chemical priorities for monitoring. In March 2001, HHS issued its first National Report on Human Exposures to Environmental Chemicals, in line with GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: As part of this coordinated strategy, the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator, EPA, should periodically publish a report on levels and trends in the national population of exposures to selected toxic substances.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  16. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and HHS have coordinated through a HHS/CDC/NCEH Working Group on Human Exposures, and developed a strategy for the monitoring and reporting of human exposure data through CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, including an annual report issued by CDC on human exposures, and a process for setting chemical priorities for monitoring. In March 2001, HHS issued its first National Report on Human Exposures to Environmental Chemicals, in line with GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: As part of this coordinated strategy, the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator, EPA, should periodically publish a report on levels and trends in the national population of exposures to selected toxic substances.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 15, 2016

Sep 14, 2016

Sep 12, 2016

Sep 9, 2016

Sep 6, 2016

Aug 31, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here