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Frequently Asked Questions

Some basic information about the agency is given in a question-and-answer format in the online brochure  about atsdr..

The following questions are ones that people frequently ask about ATSDR.

1.

Why is ATSDR involved with hazardous waste issues? And how does ATSDR's work at hazardous waste sites differ from the work of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?


2.

There seem to be too many people with cancer in my neighborhood. Could there be a connection between that cancer and hazardous materials from a waste site in the neighborhood?


3.

Doesn't the number of people sick in our community show that the hazardous waste site in the area is affecting our health?


4.

Can ATSDR close down a facility that community members feel is causing health problems in the neighborhood?


5.

How can the people in my community make sure that ATSDR is aware of the concerns and questions that we have about chemical releases in our neighborhood?


6.

How does ATSDR become involved in evaluating public health issues related to hazardous chemicals in a community?


7.

How can a community member request ATSDR's assistance?

Answers

1.

Why is ATSDR involved with hazardous waste issues? And how does ATSDR's work at hazardous waste sites differ from the work of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?


 

ATSDR was established as a separate agency within the Department of Health and Human Services specifically to address human health issues related to hazardous waste sites. ATSDR evaluates information and data about human health as it relates to hazardous substances, particularly at waste sites, and develops recommendations for protecting people from exposure to hazardous substances.

ATSDR provides these recommendations to the public and to local, state, and national health and environmental agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). ATSDR is strictly an advisory agency. EPA establishes standards that protect the environment as well as public health and has the authority to enforce those standards.


2.

There seem to be too many people with cancer in my neighborhood. Could there be a connection between that cancer and hazardous materials from a waste site in the neighborhood?


 

We do not know what causes most types of cancer and why some people develop cancer while others do not. We do know that for any chemical to cause any type of health effect, people must come into contact with the chemical at a high enough level and for a period of time long enough for an effect to occur.

For cancer, we can only provide information about whether contact with a chemical might increase the chance that someone could develop cancer as a result of contact with the chemical. Even if people are exposed to chemicals that are known to cause cancer, some people develop cancer and others do not.



3.

Doesn't the number of people sick in our community show that the hazardous waste site in the area is affecting our health?


 

No, the illnesses of people in the community may not be associated with the chemicals from the site. Many illnesses have causes that are not linked to hazardous substances. ATSDR uses a scientific process to determine whether chemicals released into the environment might be harmful for people who contact the chemicals.

This process is the subject of the online learning program on this Web site.



4.

Can ATSDR close down a facility that community members feel is causing health problems in the neighborhood?


 

ATSDR does not have the authority to close any facility. However, ATSDR can make recommendations to local, state, or federal agencies that have been authorized to take actions necessary to protect public health.



5.

How can the people in my community make sure that ATSDR is aware of the concerns and questions that we have about chemical releases in our neighborhood?


 

People may call or write ATSDR. ATSDR also has a Web site, and people may e-mail the agency. For sites undergoing evaluation, health specialists may come into the area and set up meetings to learn the concerns of community members. ATSDR is committed to facilitating and encouraging people in communities to be involved in the public health assessment process.


6.

How does ATSDR become involved in evaluating public health issues related to hazardous chemicals in a community?


 

ATSDR becomes involved in any of the following circumstances:

  • when the site is on EPA's National Priorities List for Uncontrolled Hazardous Substances (NPL) or when the site is proposed for listing on the NPL
  • when another health or environmental angency requests ATSDR's assistance, or
  • when a community member or group requests ATSDR assistance.

7.

How can a community member request ATSDR's assistance?


 

To petition ATSDR to conduct a public health assessment in your community, write to

Assistant Administrator, ATSDR (CHB)
1600 Clifton Road, NE (E28)
Atlanta, GA 30333


In your letter, you must include the following information:

  •   your name, address, and phone number
  •   the name of the group you represent, if any
  •   the name, location, and description of the facility or release
  •   information you have about people's exposure to a
      toxic substance
  •   a request that ATSDR perform a public health assessment
This information is also helpful to ATSDR, but not required:
  •  any other information you can provide about the facility
     or release—such as the chemical you are concerned about,
     the amount in the environment now or in the past, or the
     parties you believe may be responsible
  •  exposure pathways
  •  how many people might be exposed—particularly
     how many older persons and children
  •  other government agencies you have contacted or
     which have investigated already

 


bullet Last updated: February 20, 2008 bullet ATSDR EPH Training Coordinator
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