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Public Health Assessments

A public health assessment (PHA) evaluates a hazardous waste site for hazardous substances, health outcomes, and community concerns. A PHA also looks at whether people could be harmed by coming into contact with site-related substances. Public health assessments are often the evaluation tool of choice when a site contains multiple contaminants and multiple, potential pathways of chemical exposure. ATSDR and other agencies use PHAs to identify whether a health study is appropriate or whether some other public health action is warranted, such as community health education. But for every site that is on or is proposed for the National Priorities List, the Superfund law requires that ATSDR conduct a public health assessment. Public health assessments evaluate.

  • Levels (or concentrations) of hazardous substances
  • Whether people might be exposed to contamination and how they may come in contact with it (that is, through “exposure pathways” such as breathing, eating, or skin contact with contaminated air or soils)
  • What levels of a toxic substance might cause harm to people
  • Whether working or living near a hazardous waste site might affect people’s health
  • Other dangers to people, such as unsafe buildings, abandoned mine shafts, or other physical hazards.