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Vol. LVIII, No. 8
April 21, 2006

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Environmental Policy Asks Something of Us All

All NIH'ers have a role in protecting the health of the nation. Each day more than 20,000 people arrive at the Bethesda campus, and cumulatively each week we:

  • Consume 15 million gallons of water

  • Generate 180 tons of trash

  • Generate 3.5 tons of hazardous waste

  • Consume $1.4 million of electricity and petroleum products

  • Emit 2,600 metric tons of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.

Research at NIH improves health, but the way we do it burdens the environment and contributes to public health issues. For example, air emissions from the operation of research facilities and from vehicle use contribute to chronic lung disease and asthma in vulnerable segments of the population. Air emissions have become so high that the Washington metropolitan area has been designated as a severe non-attainment area for ground-level ozone.

The good news is that we can make decisions that lessen this impact and together have a positive effect. For example, you can choose alternative transportation such as biking, walking, carpooling or public transit. When leaving the office you can turn off equipment, computers and lights, which lessens electricity demand and reduces emissions resulting from production of electricity. You can procure more energy-efficient equipment and less toxic chemicals.

NIH's effort to improve the environment is not new. The Mad as a Hatter Campaign and the NIH Recycling Program are two examples of how the environment benefits when the NIH community gets involved. As a result of these programs, NIH achieved significant reductions in mercury use throughout the campus, and recycled 3,108 tons of waste in 2004.

However, we can do more. On Jan. 13, NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni signed a policy that asks the agency to continue to protect human health through involvement in the Environmental Management System. The EMS challenges all employees to use healthier alternatives in getting their jobs done. The executive officers of the institutes and centers are taking the lead in this effort by sending representatives to the NIH environmental committee and communicating goals and expectations to the community.

Individuals can get involved through participation in focus groups that will identify ways each person can have a positive effect. All employees are welcome to participate. For more information, visit or contact Terry Leland via email ( or by phone, (301) 496-7775.