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Your Environment. Your Health.

Environmental Health Sciences Mature - NIEHS Celebrates 30th Anniversary

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

News Release

Archive - New Contact Information

For more information about this archival news release, please contact Christine Flowers, Director, Office of Communications & Public Liaison at (919) 541-3665.
Monday, August 19, 1996, 12:00 p.m. EDT
Contact: Tom Hawkins, NIEHS
(919) 541-1402

From Silent Spring to Nobel Prizes and Opens New Laboratories for Future Health Research

Proud of its recent Nobel Prizes, its discoveries of genes for prostate, breast and ovarian cancer, and its pioneering research on lead poisoning, infertility and other environment-related diseases, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences celebrates its 30th anniversary Oct. 29 -- by looking forward.

Oh, there'll be talk of how the stage had been set by Rachel Carson's sensational Silent Spring, which had predicted the silencing, by environmental death, of birds and insects-and maybe mankind.

And there'll be recollections of how the institute's beginnings helped revolutionize central North Carolina. There'll be talk about how the campus was once better known for its possums than its Ph.D.'s.

But the future will be well represented by the simultaneous opening of a $47,970,000 module, or wing, containing 57,500 square feet of new laboratory and office space, which includes new lab space for NIEHS' Nobel Laureate Martin Rodbell.

And the future will be represented by a feeling, according to NIEHS Director Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., that along with these additional cutting edge facilities, there will be an "escalation of break-throughs both in basic science and in the very methods by which chemicals are tested."

"Our kind of environment-related health research has support," Olden says, "because it is so cost effective: It so often shows how to prevent disease through modest changes in our exposures to things in the environment-from sunlight to pollution to man-made and natural chemicals and metals."

North Carolina's business and government representatives have reasons to look happily back over the past 30 years. At the beginning of 1966, NIEHS' future home, Research Triangle Park, N.C., was just an expanse of rocky farmland between Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina with lots of big dreams and few tenants.

But before the year was over, the Park was set as the future home of both a major facility of IBM and the newly established NIEHS, then called the Division of Environmental Health Sciences within the National Institutes of Health. (NIH gave the division institute status in 1969.)

According to the North Carolina Leader newspaper of the time, the announcements that NIEHS and IBM were coming changed the Park from a wonderful idea into a reality, setting it on the road to being the world-recognized, envied and emulated research park still evolving and expanding today.

Research Triangle Foundation, the Park's landlord, welcomed the fledgling NIEHS with a beautiful 509-acre campus of woodland, azaleas and a large lake that is residence to duck, geese, fish and beaver.

The opening of the new lab addition, NIEHS' fourth major laboratory module, a four-story unit called the F Module, will bring all NIEHS' lab space under one roof. And, with this new wing, the main building of NIEHS jumps from 175,000 square feet of labs and offices to 232,000.

The institute-sometimes misunderstood as studying the health of the environment-actually performs basic research on the health of people as it is impacted by the environment in such diseases as asthma, bronchitis, cancer, dermatitis, emphysema, infertility and poisoning by radiation, lead, mercury and other natural or man-made substances.

NIEHS' studies have included the discoveries in 1994 and 1995 leading to the identification of the first breast cancer gene and of a gene that suppresses the spread of prostate cancer.In addition to being the home of Dr. Martin Rodbell, co-recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Medicine, NIEHS provides support through a grant to Dr. Mario Molina, co-recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for pioneering work on the deterioration of the earth's ozone shield.

In 1978, NIEHS became the headquarters agency for the National Toxicology Program. Today, NIEHS and NTP conduct and support about one third of all toxicology studies worldwide.

At RTP, at university-based centers around the country and through more than $200 million a year in research contracts and grants, NIEHS has led in the basic scientific study of air pollution, endocrine disrupters, reproductive toxicology, pesticide toxicity, lead toxicity, and scores of other areas critical to human health.

Indeed, over the past 30 years, NIEHS has helped define and create the field of environmental health studies, putting in place an expanding foundation for understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms of health and of environment-related disease.

In addition to its cutting-edge science, the institute has major programs in training young scientists and in outreach to lower socioeconomic communities suffering health problems from environmental exposures. It is also the major trainer of environmental disaster workers, preparing crews to isolate chemical spills and protect the public.

NIEHS will celebrate its 30th birthday outdoors (under a tent, in case of rain) where staff and guests can behold the beautiful new laboratory module with its elevated walkways connecting to the rest of Building 101.

Featured speakers will include Philip R. Lee, M.D., who was Assistant Secretary for Health in the Lyndon Johnson Administration under which NIEHS was created. He is again "ASH"-the key public health leadership post, under Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala-in the Clinton Administration.

Representing the National Institutes of Health, NIEHS' parent organization in Bethesda, Md., will be NIH's director, Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus, M.D.

The first NIEHS directors have been invited, Paul Kotin, M.D., director from 1966 until 1971, and David P. Rall, M.D., Ph.D., from 1971 until 1990. Other dignitaries will include Philip C. Hanawalt, Ph.D., of Stanford University, Lorette Picciano-Hansen, Executive Director of the Rural Coalition, and Joseph Graziano, Ph.D., of Columbia University.

Special recognition will be given Mrs. Elizabeth Aycock, a pioneering Research Triangle Foundation staff member, and Mrs. Margaret Knox, founder of two RTP newspapers, who has covered NIEHS stories since the Institute's beginning and whose column, RTP Perspectives, appears in the Durham Herald-Sun.

The 30th anniversary-lab module opening will continue for a second day-a family day of tours and games and clowns for the children of NIEHS employees.

"However, the ultimate guest of honor will be each individual member of the American public," says Dr. Olden. "They invest in our work, and if we do our jobs right, they receive longer and healthier lives in return."

Anyone who fits that description-or anyone else who is interested in 30 years of memories and the promise of a new millenium of medical science-is invited to the anniversary program and dedication of the F Module at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday October 29 at the main building at 111 T. W. Alexander drive, Research Triangle Park.

Planned schedule: 1:30 p.m., Oct. 29 - Anniversary Program to be followed by F Module lab tours, displays, films and a demonstration of the Module's research magnetic resonance imager, or MRI.Family Day, Oct. 30, will feature tours, films, games, dancing and clowns for employees' families in the afternoon, with a relay race and science programs for employees in the morning.


In 1966, the year of the establishment of NIEHS:

  • President Lyndon Baines Johnson was in the White House. U.S. B-52s bombed the DMZ in an attempt to halt infiltration of North Vietnam troops into the South.
  • The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., already winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was at the height of his ministry and activism for Civil Rights.
  • At a Houston hospital, surgeon Michael E. De Bakey implanted an artificial heart in a patient and the plastic device functioned.
  • Ronald Reagan won his first term as Governor of California.
  • The National and American Football Leagues agreed to have a final championship game in January 1967, initiating the Superbowl.
  • Frank Sinatra's recording of Strangers in the Night made the Top-40, as did Everyday People ("... different strokes for different folks") sung by Sly and the Family Stone.
  • Elizabeth Taylor won an Academy Award for Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? and Paul Scofield won for A Man for All Seasons, which also won as Best Picture.
  • Two men were killed and at least 25 injured in teenage rioting in Watts, a depressed section of Los Angeles.
  • Frank Robinson, Baltimore, and Henry Aaron, Atlanta, were home run champions of their respective American and National leagues. Baltimore beat Los Angeles for the World Series title. Billie Jean King won the women's singles at Wimbledon. Jack Nicklaus won the Masters Tournament for the second year in Augusta.

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