HISTORY OF ATSDR
he Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is a federal
agency created in 1980 by the Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), or what is more commonly
known as Superfund legislation. Congress enacted Superfund as part of its
response to two highly publicized and catastrophic events: discovery of the
Love Canal hazardous waste site in Niagara Falls, New York, and an industrial
fire in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, that set off the release of highly toxic fumes
into the air in a densely populated area. Congress also created ATSDR to
implement the health-related sections of laws that protect the public from
hazardous wastes and environmental spills of hazardous substances.
In 1983, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services (DHHS) by administrative order established ATSDR as a separate
agency of the Public Health Service. In June 1985, ATSDR was formally
organized to begin to implement provisions of CERCLA, one of the most
challenging and innovative environmental laws relating to public health.
ATSDR was to work in concert with the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC, now the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention), and the National Institute of Environmental Health
In 1986, when Congress passed the Superfund Amendments and
Reauthorization Act (SARA), ATSDR received major new mandates. By August
1989, the agency had assumed its current structure. Since 1989, ATSDR has
received additional non-CERCLA statutory responsibilities. The agency, which
is headquartered in Atlanta, had a staff of about 410 employees during FY 1999.
ATSDR's mission is to prevent exposure and adverse human health effects and
diminished quality of life associated with exposure to hazardous substances
from waste sites, unplanned releases, and other sources
of pollution. ATSDR
works closely with state, local, and other federal agencies to reduce or
eliminate illness, disability, and death that result from exposure of the public
and workers to toxic substances at waste disposal and spill sites.
As the lead public health agency responsible for implementing the health-
related provisions of CERCLA, ATSDR is charged with assessing the presence
and nature of health hazards at specific Superfund sites, helping to prevent or
reduce further exposure and the illnesses that result, and expanding the
knowledge base about the health effects of exposure to hazardous substances.
CERCLA mandated that ATSDR (1) establish a National Exposure and Disease
Registry, (2) create an inventory of health information on hazardous