Title: Acting Deputy Director, Division of Community Health Investigations, Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry (ATSDR)
Education: University of Georgia, MPA
Public Health Law News (PHLN):Please describe your career path and what drew you to public health policy.
Biagioni:I’ve always been interested in public service and about how I can make a positive impact in other people’s lives. I started as a program evaluator for the US Department of Health and Human Services and was drawn to CDC because there is so much potential to improve health through implementation of effective programs and policies. Often, policy—broadly defined as a law, regulation, procedure, incentive, or even voluntary practice—can be a cost-effective way to create sustainable improvements. So, I really have the best of both worlds here at ATSDR.
PHLN:What is the Division of Community Health Investigations, and what is your role within the division?
Biagioni:The Division of Community Health Investigations (DCHI) is part of ATSDR that works to reduce people’s exposures to toxic substances in the environment. DCHI evaluates environmental exposures, recommends ways to protect people’s health, and prepares environmental reports based on our findings. In addition, DCHI collaborates with communities in public health activities, supplies health education materials to those communities, and provides technical help to communities, states, tribes, and other agencies.
PHLN:What are brownfields and how do they threaten public health?
Biagioni:The term “brownfield site” was defined under the 2002 Brownfields Amendments to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). These are sites where there are concerns about the presence of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants; these concerns may limit or complicate the redevelopment, expansion, or reuse of the sites. There are some exclusions to the definition of “brownfield site,” such as facilities that may be placed or are listed on the National Priorities List (e.g., Superfund sites). ATSDR includes brownfields as a type of land reuse site.
Land reuse sites are sites that are slated for redevelopment but may have contamination with hazardous substances. In other words, land reuse sites include brownfields plus those sites that are exempted from the 2002 CERCLA amendment, such as Superfund sites.
Brownfields and other land reuse sites can affect a community’s health in a number of ways. Protecting people from harmful exposures that may be associated with these sites is of particular concern to ATSDR. But, ATSDR also encourages people to think broadly about how land reuse sites can affect the community’s physical and mental health, infrastructure, and environment.
PHLN:What kind of industries and contaminants are associated with brownfields?
Biagioni:Lead, asbestos, trichloroethylene, petroleum products, and a variety of metals are some of the most commonly found contaminants at land reuse sites. These contaminants come from many sources, such as industrial legacy, former gas stations, dry cleaning businesses, and older housing stock. Many, but not all, land reuse sites are contaminated.
PHLN:What is your division doing to reduce the harm caused by brownfields and other land reuse sites?
Biagioni:ATSDR addresses brownfields through our core work to protect people from environmental hazards by directly providing assistance to states to detect, respond, and prevent exposures to toxic substances in the environment. We also have created special resources focused around land reuse, including
- An action model to help communities identify priorities and plan for land reuse
- A site tool to help public health and municipal staff inventory potential land reuse sites and identify levels of contamination that warrant further evaluation
Land reuse and redevelopment toolkits, which are tailored to community members, developers, local planners, public health experts, and municipal agencies
Finally, we are working in partnership with the National Environmental Health Association to develop specialized training for public health staff.
PHLN:What is ATSDR’s Partnership to Promote Local Efforts to Reduce Environmental Exposure (APPLETREE)?
Biagioni:APPLETREE is ATSDR’s cooperative agreement program with 25 state health departments. Through APPLETREE, ATSDR provides technical and financial assistance to states to identify exposure pathways at specific sites; educate affected communities and local health professionals about site contamination and potential health effects; and review health outcome data to evaluate potential links between site contaminants and community health outcomes.
PHLN:How is the latest funding opportunity through project APPLETREE different from previous funding opportunities under your cooperative agreement?
Biagioni:For FY 2017, the program added a new activity asking states to implement programs to prevent hazardous exposures among those who are most vulnerable—young children. ATSDR is providing funding and assistance to states to ensure early care and education (ECE) programs are free from environmental hazards. To accomplish this, states will review former uses of the property proposed to become an early care and education facility to determine if harmful substances were left on the property (both building and land). They will also determine possible migration of harmful substances onto the property from nearby properties or activities or if any naturally-occurring harmful substances, such as asbestos or radon, are on the property. Finally, they’ll determine the property has access to safe drinking water source.
ATSDR envisions continuing to incorporate what it has learned investigating hazardous exposures to guide states in developing practices to prevent exposures in the first place.
PHLN: What kind of innovations have jurisdictions funded through APPLETREE created so far?
Biagioni:Connecticut has created a policy framework called SAFER to ensure that ECE programs are safely sited. SAFER is one of the models that we’ve highlighted in our guidance for states. It is a low-cost, non-regulatory approach to safe siting. Other models included in our guidance are from New York and New Jersey.
PHLN:How can individuals and policy makers become more informed about brownfields and make their homes and communities safer?
Biagioni:ATSDR has a wealth of resources on our website that can be a starting point for interested individuals. Our Land Reuse Toolkits have resources for community members, developers, planners, public health experts, and other local agencies. We encourage planners and community groups to work with their state and local health and environmental agencies because those agencies have expertise and information that is useful in safe redevelopment, including information about past uses of a site, nearby contaminants, and how to judge whether a contaminant is harmful to health. If people have specific questions about these issues in their areas, they can contact their closest ATSDR regional staff.
PHLN:Have you read any good books lately?
Biagioni: The Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore. It is the story of the lightbulb patent wars between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, told through the lens of a young attorney hired by Westinghouse. I enjoyed how the concepts of technology, business, and law were intertwined and how there were countless lessons for modern-day management, business, and government practices—it was a real page-turner!
PHLN:What would you be doing if you weren’t working in public health policy?
Biagioni:I could see myself as a city planner working in the Atlanta area to help re-vision neighborhoods and communities, given all the growth and redevelopment that has been taking place. Atlanta has really changed over the last decade, but there’s still a lot of work to do to make it a model live, work, and play community.
PHLN:Do you have any hobbies?
Biagioni:My hobbies lately have been raising three vibrant boys (ages 7, 4, and 1), staying connected to my wife of 12 years, and enjoying the north Georgia mountains when we can. We are also a soccer family, so I enjoy playing with friends, coaching my kids, and watching Atlanta United.