The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ATSDR, was established by Congress in 1980
under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, also known as the
Superfund law. This law set up a fund to identify and clean up our country's hazardous waste sites. The
Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the individual states regulate the investigation and clean up
of the sites.
Since 1986, ATSDR has been required by law to conduct a public health assessment at each of the sites
on the EPA
List. The aim
of these evaluations
is to find out
if people are being
exposed to hazardous substances and, if so, whether that exposure is harmful and should be stopped or
(The legal definition of a health assessment is included on the inside front cover.) If appropriate,
ATSDR also conducts public health assessments when petitioned by concerned individuals. Public health
assessments are carried out by environmental and health scientists from ATSDR and from the states with
which ATSDR has cooperative agreements. The public health assessment program allows the scientists
flexibility in the format or structure of their response to the public health issues at hazardous waste sites.
a public health assessment could
be one document
or it could
be a compilation
health consultations the structure may vary from site to site. Nevertheless, the public health assessment
process is not considered complete until the public health issues at the site are addressed.
Exposure: As the first step in the evaluation, ATSDR scientists review environmental data to see how
is at a site, where
it is, and how people might come
into contact with it. Generally,
ATSDR does not collect its own environmental sampling data but reviews information provided by EPA,
other government agencies, businesses, and the public. When there is not enough environmental
information available, the report will indicate what further sampling data is needed.
Health Effects: If the review of the environmental data shows that people have or could come into
contact with hazardous substances, ATSDR scientists evaluate whether or not these contacts may result in
harmful effects. ATSDR recognizes that children, because of their play activities and their growing
bodies, may be more vulnerable to these effects. As a policy, unless data are available to suggest
otherwise, ATSDR considers children to be more sensitive and vulnerable to hazardous substances. Thus,
the health impact
to the children
is considered first when evaluating the health threat
to a community.
The health impacts to other high risk groups within the community (such as the elderly, chronically ill,
and people engaging in high risk practices) also receive special attention during the evaluation.
ATSDR uses existing scientific information, which can include the results of medical, toxicologic and
epidemiologic studies and the data collected in disease registries, to determine the health effects that may
result from exposures. The science of environmental health is still developing, and sometimes scientific
information on the health effects of certain substances is not available. When this is so, the report will
suggest what further public health actions are needed.
Conclusions: The report presents conclusions about the public health threat, if any, posed by a site.
When health threats have been determined for high risk groups (such as children, elderly, chronically ill,
and people engaging in high risk practices), they will be summarized in the conclusion section of the
report. Ways to stop or reduce exposure will then be recommended in the public health action plan.