Environmental Toxicology Program

Public Health Evaluations

Who can ask for a public health evaluation?

If appropriate, ADHS conducts public health evaluations when petitioned by other agencies or concerned community groups or individuals. As the first step in the evaluation, ADHS environmental health scientists review environmental data to see how much contamination is at a site, where it is, and how people might come into contact with it.

Generally, ADHS does not collect its own environmental sampling data but reviews information provided by EPA, ADEQ, other government agencies, businesses, and the public. When there is not enough environmental information available, the report will indicate what further sampling data is needed.

How does ADHS evaluate public health?

If the review of the environmental data shows that people have or could come into contact with hazardous substances, ADHS scientists then evaluate whether or not there will be any harmful effects from these exposures.

The findings are published in a report which focuses on public health, or the health impact on the community as a whole, rather than on individual risks. Again, ADHS generally makes use of existing scientific information, which can include the results of medical, toxicological and epidemiologic studies and the data collected in disease registries. The science of environmental health is still developing, and sometimes scientific information on the health effects of certain substances is not available. When this is so, the report will suggest what further research studies are needed.

ADHS works with communities and other agencies...

ADHS solicits and evaluates information from city, state and federal agencies, and the community. It then shares its conclusions with them. Agencies are asked to respond to an early version of the report to make sure that the data they have provided is accurate, complete, and current.

Throughout the evaluation process, ADHS gathers information and comments from the people who live or work near a site, including residents of the area, civic leaders, health professionals and community groups. There are four tools ADHS uses to address questions or concerns. They are: (1) Public Health Assessments, (2) Public Health Consultations, (3) Technical Assistance, and (4) Health Education. These may be used individually or in combination, depending on the circumstances at the site.

  1. Public Health Assessments (PHA)
    Since 1986, ATSDR has been required by law to conduct a public health assessment at each of the sites on the EPA National Priorities List. The aim of these evaluations is to find out if people are being exposed to hazardous substances and, if so, whether that exposure is harmful and should be stopped or reduced. Under the Cooperative Agreement Program, ADHS may perform these public health assessments in coordination with ATSDR to meet the requirement of this law. A Public Health Assessment is the most involved and time intensive tool that ADHS uses. A PHA typically involves a large site with contamination affecting multiple media (e.x. air, groundwater, surface water, soil, and sediment). The PHA process includes a public comment period as well as extensive community involvement activities.
  2. Public Health Consultations
    Public Health Consultations follow the same general outline as a Public Health Assessment. However, it is less involved. Typically only one or two media are evaluated, and only for specific contaminants, such as heavy metals or volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This is less formal and less time intensive than the PHA, and does not require a public comment period. The public health consultation process generally includes health education activities.
  3. Technical Assistance
    Occasionally, ADHS receives requests from other agencies or community members who have a specific question that does not require the in-depth process of PHAs or Public Health Consultations. In these circumstances, ADHS may review some limited data, documents, or other information in order to provide some guidance regarding a particular issue. ADHS generally responds directly to the requestor and may or may not require community involvement activities.
  4. Health Education
    ADHS participates in a variety of health education activities. These activities are sometimes site related and complement PHA, public health consultation, or technical assistance activities. In some instances, ADHS provides health education services to communities as they continue to have questions about the site. ADHS also guest lectures on occasion to public health and medical students, sanitarians, and other agencies.