A White House task force will recommend that the National Institutes of Health replace the Department of Energy as the lead agency in directing federal research into the health hazards of high-and low-level radiation.
"Radiation is the only major hazard whose health effects are studied primarily by an agency whose central mission is not health protection," according to the task force draft report. A copy has been obtained by The Washington Post.
The draft report, to which DOE has filed several objections, is expected to be released for public comment this week.
The task force report also criticizes what it calls "some jurisdictional confusion and conflict and blurring of lines of responsibilty" in the establishment and enforcement of radiation safety standards, both for nuclear industry workers and the general public.
The Envoronmental Protection Agency, which now has the legal authority for proposing these standards, was singled out for appearing not to have "devoted sufficient resources to this responsibility."
The task force report proposes that an Interagency Radiation Protection Committee be formed with EPA in the lead. The committee would include agencies with radiation-standards responsibility, including DOE, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Supplementing its call for changes in both health research and the establishment and enforcement of radiation standards, the task force suggested a need to "provide overall co-ordination and leadership for federal policy relating to radiation matters."
It proposed setting up a Radiation Coordinating Council made up of the heads or other top officials of agencies dealing with radiation matters.
This high-level group would be located in the executive office of the president and directed by his appointee. It would be available for solving controversies among individual agencies, which often disagree on radiation matters depending on whether they are users of radiation or monitors of its health effects.
The fight over control to health research has been an ongoing controversy, with DOE and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission, on one side and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare on the other.
The joint task force, established last May by a presidential directive, is chaired by Peter Libassi, general counsel of HEW.
DOE officials were sharply critical yesterday of an earlier HEW draft of the reorganization study, which, as one put it, "prejudged against DOE research" by saying "we already were bad guys."
The current draft, while praising much of the DOE research as "excellent" and contributing "greatly to understanding of ionizing radiation," also finds that "a tension exists between DOE's role as the primary sponsor of research . . . and its roles as a developer and promoter of nuclear energy and as an employer, through contractors of workers exposed to radiation during the production of nuclear weapons."
A DOE official said yesterday that attempts were under way to "clean up" that report language.
The task force said "NIH and other HEW agencies are not free from criticism of past promotion of the use of radiation in medicine for diagnosis and treatment of disease . . . without thoroughly weighing the risks involved."
In fiscal 1978, $76.5 million was spent by all federal agencies on radiation health research, with DOE having 63 percent of the overall total and 78 percent of the $17 million spent on human studies.
As the task force report is now written, NIH could take the lead in this area either by gaining control over DOE's research money or by obtaining an even larger amount from an increased research budget. DOE officials said yesterday they oppose any attempt to take their research funding away.
This task force draft report will be added to others released for public comment last month. The comments will be analyzed next month and a final report submitted to the White House.