Our Legacy in Environmental Health

National Academies reports provide policymakers with an objective evidence base to shape the direction of research fields, inform public understanding of important issues, and inform the development of laws and regulations. Our convening activities bring together key players to examine complex topics and work toward a shared understanding. Together, our work influences policies, fosters collaboration, and inspires new ideas that shape the field. Below are just a few examples of how this work has influenced the understanding of—and resulting actions around–environmental impacts on human health.

To view the full collection of our environmental health work, visit: www.nap.edu/ehmi.

Selected Impact

Safeguarding the Public’s Health: Smoking on Airplanes

Our 1986 report provided authoritative scientific evidence supporting and recommending a ban on smoking on all domestic commercial flights.  Congress subsequently passed a ban in 1988, which worked to bring the cabin air quality in line with established standards for other closed environments. We continued to provide guidance to regulators to help protect the health of passengers and crew.

The Airliner Cabin Environment: Air Quality and Safety (1986)

The Airliner Cabin Environment and the Health of Passengers and Crew (2002)

Advancing Public Understanding: Indoor Air Quality

A series of reports have explored how the quality of the air we breathe indoors is affected by microbes, allergens, and other organisms, as well as the composition of the materials found in buildings and the chemicals used in cleaning products. These reports have been influential in alerting the public to potential hazards and identifying interventions to reduce harm.  The reports have also stimulated new research initiatives and shaped scientific inquiry on the effects of indoor air exposures.

Clearing the Air: Asthma and Indoor Air Exposures (2000)

Damp Indoor Spaces and Health (2004)

Climate Change, the Indoor Environment, and Health (2011)

Microbiomes of the Built Environment–From Research to Application (2017)


Protecting Veterans and their Families: Health Effects of Wartime Exposures

Our reports on wartime exposures and contamination on military bases have influenced the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide compensation to veterans and their families for 14 diseases determined to be related to herbicide exposures during the Vietnam War, and for 8 diseases associated with contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, NC. These policy decisions influence the spending of billions of dollars and inform health protections for millions of people.

Veterans and Agent Orange (11-volume series)

Gulf War and Health (11-volume series)

Contaminated Water Supplies at Camp Lejeune: Assessing Potential Health Effects (2010)


Setting National Standards: Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is a vital process for evaluating the potential harms of environmental contaminants to people. Policymakers depend on risk assessment to inform their decisions about safe levels of exposure and remediate health threats, such as addressing lead in the water consumed by children. Agencies used a wide variety of approaches to setting policies until our impactful 1983 report laid the foundation for an evidence-based, framework for risk assessment that is still used today. In the decades following, our reports have provided continual guidance as the science advances.

Risk Assessment in the Federal Government: Managing the Process (1983)

Science and Judgment in Risk Assessment (1994)

Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy (2007)

Science and Decisions: Advancing Risk Assessment (2009)