We're exposed to many substances daily thanks to our jobs, hobbies, home life, diets, and even the air we breathe. Many substances are harmless to humans at the doses we encounter day to day, and we are still discovering which may harm us and under what circumstances. The National Toxicology Program (NTP), an interagency program within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, evaluates and identifies the health effects of select substances which could be hazardous to humans. In other words, NTP studies the toxicology of these test substances.
Our vision is to maintain an objective, science-based approach to deal with critical issues in toxicology by using the best science available for our studies. We continually evolve to be at the cutting edge of scientific research as we develop and apply the latest technologies and research methods available.
From the end of the 20th century to the modern day, there have been many advances in molecular biology, computer science, and more; these advances have helped scientists better identify critical cellular and molecular events (mechanisms) that may lead to adverse responses to toxicants. These discoveries have also given us a better understanding of the causes of disease and illness within the human population.
As the primary source of toxicology information for the federal government, NTP seeks to utilize advanced technologies in its research. Our intent is to improve the ability of government agencies to make informed public health decisions. NTP does this by expanding the existing data pool on the potential toxicity of various substances and environmental agents and providing that information for use in decision-making.
History of NTP
Before 1978, there was a growing concern about the effects of various substances in the environment which could directly or indirectly contribute to diseases and illness. Unfortunately, in most cases there wasn't enough data to prove a link. Systematic testing was needed to understand the effect of environmental substances on human health.
This is why the National Toxicology Program was created. Our ultimate goal is to provide information on harmful substances, prevent disease and disability due to exposure, and improve the health of the general population.
NTP was established in 1978 by Joseph A. Califano, Jr., the then Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (today known as the Department of Health and Human Services). This program was created as a joint effort to:
- Coordinate toxicology testing programs within the federal government.
- Strengthen the science base in toxicology.
- Develop and validate improved testing methods.
- Provide information about potentially toxic substances to health, regulatory, and research agencies, scientific and medical communities, and the public.
David P. Rall, who at the time was Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was named the first NTP director and built the program's foundation. Some core program features developed under Rall's direction included:
- Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC): an advisory committee that provides external scientific oversight of the program's activities.
- Report on Carcinogens (RoC): currently in its 14th edition, the RoC was enacted to document substances known or believed to cause cancer in humans.
- Executive Committee: consisting of stakeholders from various branches of the government, the Executive Committee provides programmatic and policy oversight to the NTP Director.
In October of 1981, Secretary Richard S. Schwiker granted permanent status to NTP as a government program and independent partner of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).
NTP has continued our research and analysis for over 30 years. We constantly strive to use the latest technologies and scientific analysis available.
In 2004 we released Toxicology in the 21st Century: The Role of The National Toxicology Program. This document announced the updated vision of NTP and a roadmap to achieve that vision. We continually update our decision-making and older tests from the 1970s and 1990s with faster mechanism-based testing. You can learn more about the process involved in creating these documents in the Past Meetings and Workshops section of the site.
We work closely with federal agencies which are represented in the NTP Executive Committee. Additionally, we work with state and international governments to:
- Address issues of importance to public health.
- Support the shaping of public health policy.
- Protect the environment.
NTP also has a critical role in:
- Building interagency collaborations in research and exposure assessment.
- Providing interpretation and alternative methods for toxicity testing.
- Exploring new technologies to evaluate environmental substances which cause disease.