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ATSDR PHA Success Stories

Scientists at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) work around the clock to keep you safe from harmful substances in the air you breathe; the water you drink; and the soil under your feet. This often results in a Public Health Assessment (PHA).

Photo: Senior couple huggingLast year, ATSDR received more than 1,400 requests for assistance and worked in over 500 places across the country, examining whether people are being exposed to harmful levels of Trichloroethylene TCE, asbestos, lead, vinyl chloride or other substances in the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other partners took action to protect health by adopting more than 80% of our recommendations.

Six ATSDR PHA Success Stories

Protecting senior citizens—Mt. Clemens, Michigan: ATSDR wrote a letter to the Director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE) raising concerns about an urgent public health hazard. Explosive levels of landfill gases were beneath the foundations of a senior housing high rise built over a former landfill. The letter recommended actions to reduce the levels of gas. ATSDR worked with the City of Mt. Clemens, which owns the landfill property, to design an active gas ventilation system to remove landfill gases from the subsurface. The ventilation system was activated in March 2012. Since then, air monitoring has verified that the levels of methane in the subsurface have been reduced significantly. Today they are well below the explosive conditions that existed previously.

Photo: Young child playing with toy lettersTaking action to protect children at the Carver Daycare Center—Evansville, Indiana: ATSDR and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management determined about 180 children in the Carver Daycare Center were being exposed to high levels of TCE and tetrachloroethylene, known health hazards. The day care was operating in a former electric motor company facility. Based on ATSDR's determination, the children were relocated immediately, and the school was closed until the contamination source was removed. The daycare center re-opened several months later.

Stopping mercury exposures at a day care center—Franklin Township, New Jersey: ATSDR and New Jersey state health officials helped stop children's exposures to mercury at a day care center. For two years, the Kiddie Kollege Day Care Center operated in a building once occupied by a company that made thermometers and contaminated the entire building with elemental mercury. After ATSDR and the state identified this urgent health risk, all children and staff were evacuated, and the day care operator immediately closed the center. With support from state health officials and the Mt. Sinai Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit, ATSDR arranged for mercury testing, education, clinical health consultations, and follow-up. Sixty children and nine adults received tests and follow-up consultations.

Photo: Faucet pouring water into glassEnsuring access to safe drinking water at Desert View Estates—Kuna, Idaho: When a resident asked about uranium levels in the Desert View Estates Water system, ATSDR's cooperative agreement partner, the Idaho Division of Public Health (IDPH), analyzed the data and found the water was a health hazard for community members, especially young children whose kidneys might be damaged by the uranium. IDPH recommended installation of a new well system and provided information on practical ways residents could reduce their exposure to uranium. As a result of ATSDR and IDPH's work, about 500 residents now drink safe water since a new well and piping system have been installed.

Protecting hundreds of children from TCE exposures—Dracut, Massachusetts: ATSDR analyzed data that showed TCE levels at an indoor batting cage posed an urgent health risk to children and workers. This assessment was based on newly available science showing even low levels of TCE exposures might be harmful for developing fetuses and children. ATSDR's findings prompted the batting cage business to relocate to a safe facility. Without ATSDR's scientific expertise to identify the hazard, hundreds of children and workers at the batting cage business would still be exposed to hazardous levels of these chemicals. ATSDR has worked to protect pregnant women and children at hundreds of sites across the country where TCE contaminates groundwater and seeps into indoor air.

Keeping the public and emergency responders safe—Mishawaka, Indiana: When a fire at a Northern Indiana chemical plant created a vapor cloud of cyanide gas and hydrogen sulfide, the local response team requested support from ATSDR. Within hours of the event, ATSDR staff were at the scene reviewing data and the science on these chemicals to help the local authorities make decisions about when people living nearby should be evacuated and returned to their homes. ATSDR staff across the country helped protect health after 83 emergency events like this one in FY2012.

Read more ATSDR success stories.

Created by the 1980 Superfund Law, ATSDR actively works with communities to address their concerns. At several points in the PHA process, ATSDR shares information with community members about its approach and results of its public health activities.

ATSDR begins the health assessment process after receiving a request from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a state environmental agency, or an individual. Whether ATSDR scientists are assessing the impacts of a chemical spill or the legacy of industrial production, they follow the same basic process:

  1. ATSDR works with the community to review environmental data, biomonitoring data (blood and urine samples) and health statistics to determine if people are being exposed to contaminants that might harm their health.
  2. Makes recommendations to protect people's health.
  3. Works with appropriate agencies to ensure recommendations are adopted.
  4. Educates communities and doctors about exposure to contaminants and what to do to avoid them.

With staff in 10 regional offices and 28 state health departments across the country, ATSDR is available 24/7 to respond to local concerns and protect health.

View Public Health Assessment Overview.

  • Page last reviewed: June 17, 2013
  • Page last updated: June 17, 2013
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs