Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

History ATSDR


In response to the environmental disasters at Love Canal and Times Beach, Missouri, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), commonly known as the Superfund legislation. CERCLA gave EPA primary responsibility for identifying, investigating, and cleaning up hazardous waste sites. CERCLA also authorized the establishment of ATSDR to assess the presence and nature of health hazards to communities living near Superfund sites, to help prevent or reduce harmful exposures, and to expand the knowledge base about the health effects that result from exposure to hazardous substances. ATSDR was created as an agency under the Department of Health and Human Services on April 19, 1983, and James O. Mason served as the agency's first administrator. The Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments of 1984 to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) gave ATSDR additional authority related to hazardous waste storage facilities. ATSDR was charged with conducting public health assessments at these sites when requested by EPA, states, or individuals, as well as assisting EPA to determine which substances should be regulated and the levels at which chemicals may pose a threat to human health. ATSDR was formally organized as an agency on June 11, 1985. The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA) broadened ATSDR's responsibilities in the areas of public health assessments, establishment and maintenance of toxicological databases, information dissemination, and medical education. In 2003, the position of assistant administrator was replaced with a director who is shared with NCEH.