Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Public health assessments and health consultations

One of ATSDR’s primary responsibilities is conducting public health assessments and health consultations. The agency conducts public health assessments for all current or proposed sites on the National Priorities List (commonly known as Superfund sites). The purpose of public health assessments is to examine whether hazardous substances at a site pose a human health hazard and to issue recommendations about limiting or stopping exposure to those substances. ATSDR also conducts health consultations, often in response to requests from EPA and state and local agencies. Health consultations examine specific health questions, such as the health effects of exposure to a specific chemical at a site. Health consultations are more limited in scope than public health assessments. ATSDR also conducts public health assessments and health consultations in response to petitions from members of the public. To conduct public health assessments and health consultations, ATSDR relies on its own scientists or establishes cooperative agreements with states, providing technical assistance to state health departments. ATSDR issued more than 200 public health assessments in 2009 and provides about 1,000 health consultations each year.

When investigating sites, ATSDR examines environmental data, health data, and information from community members about how the site affects their quality of life. ATSDR normally does not collect its own environmental data; rather, it usually relies on partner organizations, such as EPA, to conduct testing and gather data. This environmental data provides information on the amount of contamination and possible ways humans could be exposed to the hazardous substances at the site. The health data provides information on rates of illness, disease, and death in the local community. Since ATSDR is an advisory agency, the conclusions in its public health assessments and health consultations are often in the form of recommendations to state and national environmental and health agencies, such as EPA, that have regulatory authority. Other agencies and the general public rely on ATSDR to provide trusted information on the health effects of hazardous substances at contaminated sites.



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