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ATSDR Public Health Assessment Mandate and Process

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) was established under the mandate of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980. (Note: Appendix A provides a listing of abbreviations and acronyms used in this report.) This act, also known as the "Superfund" law, authorized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct clean-up activities at hazardous waste sites. EPA was directed to compile a list of sites considered hazardous to public health. This list is termed the National Priorities List (NPL). The 1986 Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) directed ATSDR to perform a public health assessment for each NPL site. In 1990 federal facilities were included on the NPL.

Public health assessments (PHAs) are conducted by scientists from ATSDR (or from states with which ATSDR has cooperative agreements). The purpose of a PHA is to determine whether people have in the past been exposed (in contact with) to or are currently being exposed to hazardous substances and if so, whether that exposure is harmful and should be stopped or reduced.

In conducting the PHA, three types of information are used. A major source of information is the extensive environmental data collected for EPA. This information is examined to determine whether people in the community might be exposed to hazardous materials from the NPL facility. If people are being exposed to these chemicals, ATSDR will determine whether the exposure is at levels which might cause harm. A second source of information used in the PHA is community health concerns. ATSDR will collect health concerns of community members and determine whether health problems could be related to exposure to chemicals released from the NPL facility. If ATSDR finds that harmful exposures have occurred, health outcome data (information from local hospitals and other medical organizations) may be used to indicate that illnesses are occurring which could be linked to hazardous chemicals released from the NPL facility.

The PHA presents conclusions about whether exposures are occurring, and whether a health threat is presented. In some cases, it is possible to determine whether exposures occurred in the past. If it is found that a threat exists, recommendations are made to stop or reduce the threat to public health. ATSDR is an advisory agency. Its recommendations identify actions which EPA, the facility or local agencies can undertake. If exposures are occurring at levels which could pose a threat to public health, ATSDR can undertake health education activities or certain additional followup studies. ATSDR can also identify types of information which might be needed to make public health decisions, if such information is lacking.


Acronyms and Abbreviations

ATSDR – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
CERCLA – Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980
EPA – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
FDA – Food and Drug Administration
GLFATF – Great Lakes Fish Advisory Task Force
IRP – Installation Restoration Program
ng/g – nannograms/gram,
NPL – National Priorities List
PAHs – Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
PCB – Polychlorinated Biphenyls
PHA(s) – Public health assessments
POL – Petroleum, Oil, Lubricants
ppb – parts per billion
ppm – part per million
RI – Remedial Investigation
SARA – 1986 Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act
TPH – Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons
USTs – Underground Storage Tanks
UXO – Unexploded Ordnance

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Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 4770 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30341
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