The Larger Context

A picture containing sky, outdoor, nature.
In the United States and its territories, there are thousands of communities affected by environmental contamination from a variety of sources.

In many of these communities, chronic contamination has been known to negatively affect people’s physical and psychosocial health and safety [ATSDR 2020]. Environmental contamination can contribute to both short-term and long-term stress in affected communities—which can also pose a health risk. In fact, research shows that stress may put some people at greater risk for health effects from certain contaminants [Schmitt 2021]. When environmental contamination occurs, ATSDR can help determine what type of public health action to take (i.e., when, where, how, and for whom).

Although ATSDR’s efforts vary in scope, size, and duration, a common thread is a strong focus on community engagement. This focus has enabled ATSDR and state, territorial, local and tribal (STLT) partners to effectively identify, understand, and respond to the unique needs of communities and maximize their public health impact.

Developing the Playbook

The development of the Playbook involved a literature review, gap analysis, and synthesis of existing practice-based community engagement materials and models from ATSDR and beyond. The process explored materials from federal, state, and local governmental organizations, foundations, professional organizations, academic institutions, and public health associations.

ATSDR staff with expertise in community engagement and health education contributed activities, resources, and tools. ATSDR conducted focus groups with internal subject matter experts, funded STLT partners, and community representatives to obtain feedback on the Playbook content and design. In addition to the focus groups, ATSDR received written reviews of the Playbook from agency staff and partners.

Working Together

When conducting environmental public health work, you will likely join a team of experts to address public health issues related to environmental contamination. Your team may include environmental health scientists, epidemiologists, health communication and education specialists, community engagement specialists, regional representatives, and other experts.

Rarely can a single organization or government agency meet all the needs of an entire community. If the various organizations in a single community do not work well together, they may end up causing confusion. ATSDR staff often find that STLT partners and other agencies, like the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), may be working with the same community. This Playbook includes guidance on how to acknowledge and collaborate with other groups that have a presence within a community. It may be necessary to clarify each agency’s role to avoid duplicating efforts.

Page last reviewed: December 15, 2021