The Health Assessment Section works in cooperation with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to identify site-specific environmental hazards and to educate affected communities.
In 1990, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Health Assessment Section (HAS) entered into a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a U.S. Public Health Service Agency. The goal of this partnership is to serve the public by using the best environmental science, providing accurate health information, and taking public health actions to prevent harmful exposures and disease related to toxic substances.
Today’s complex environmental public health problems require a coordinated response from multiple agencies, organizations and a variety of health professionals. ODH HAS works closely with the ATSDR, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Ohio EPA, local health departments, and concerned communities to investigate and eliminate the public health threat posed by toxic substances in the environment.
ODH HAS is staffed by highly qualified individuals with a variety of backgrounds and expertise in health and environmental sciences including:
Geology and Hydrogeology
Environmental Sampling (water, air, and soil)
Health Risk Assessment
The Health Assessment Section’s mission is to evaluate and prevent exposure and adverse human health effects associated with exposure to hazardous substances from waste sites, unplanned releases and other sources of pollution present in Ohio’s environment. In order to fulfill its mission, ODH HAS provides the following professional services:
Public Health Assessment (PHA)
A public health assessment (PHA) evaluates data and information on the release of hazardous substances into the environment in order to assess any current or future impact on public health. ODH HAS works with local, state, and federal agencies as well as community members to answer these questions:
What chemical(s) were found at the site?
Is there a health threat to the people living near the site now?
Could there be a health threat to the people living near the site in the future?
What actions are needed to protect the public from the site hazard?
How can the Ohio Department of Health or the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) help the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Ohio EPA best protect public health in its cleanup decisions?
Health consultations, which are intended to prevent or reduce the hazardous levels of exposure to toxic substances, may lead to recommendations for specific actions. Just a few examples of these recommended actions include:
Restricting the use of water supplies or replacing them entirely.
Intensifying environmental sampling at or around the site.
Restricting site access.
Removing contaminated materials from the site.
Health consultations are similar to public health assessments, but a health consultation will usually address one specific site-related public health concern while a public health assessment may address many. A series of health consultations may be written for one site.
The health consultation may also produce comment addressing the plan for a site cleanup. For instance, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) might design a plan that outlines what is to be sampled at a specific site. After a review of the plan, the Health Assessment Section might add additional sampling and/or request specific sampling methods.
An exposure investigation gathers and analyzes data from a hazardous site location and from the people that live close to that site. To determine if a site contains or released hazardous chemicals, samples can be gathered from air monitors, underground drinking water, and collected soil samples. To evaluate whether people have been exposed to hazardous substances near a site, information may be gathered by looking at medical records and testing blood, urine or hair samples to determine if higher levels of chemicals can be detected.
To improve the response to emergencies involving exposure to hazardous substances, the Health Assessment Section provides health-related support to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Ohio EPA, the Ohio Emergency Management Agency (EMA), and local health departments, offering site-specific information, health consultations and health information to affected communities. Some examples of emergencies that the Health Assessment Section might respond to include mercury spills, wildfires, and chemical releases due to an accident at an industrial facility.
Community Involvement and Health Education
Community health concerns make up an important part of the health assessment process. The Health Assessment Section staff participate in site visits and act as the liaison between the scientists (health assessors) that are collecting and analyzing the data and the community that is affected. Staff will provide community-based information and serve as a source of information about activities being conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
The Health Assessment Section works with a variety of health agencies and community partnerships to address the health concerns of the community living near a hazardous waste site. Some community involvement and health education activities include:
Developing and providing understandable, science-based factsheets that provide information on toxic chemicals.
Attending and hosting community meetings to present site-specific or chemical-specific information.
Visiting sites to provide one-on-one information about a hazardous site.
Using social media to inform the public about environmental hazards in their community.
Ohio Department of Health
Health Assessment Section