The Who, What, Why, and How of ATSDR’s Petition Process

Person holding glasses wearing blue shirt speaking to three other people listening attentively.

Petitions connect communities to ATSDR resources – such as ATSDR environmental scientists, physicians, toxicologists, and other specialists – to assess and to help residents understand environmental exposures in the community that might harm their health. When communities are concerned about potential exposure to chemicals, ATSDR can bring tools and expertise to investigate.

To understand how to file a petition, we need to understand the basics:
What is an ATSDR petition?
A person wearing a blue shirt is signing a piece of paper using a silver pen.

A petition is a request, written as a letter or email, that asks ATSDR to investigate specific environmental health concerns in a community.

What is not an ATSDR petition?
A person sitting and looking at her their laptop screen with an orange sweater.

A list of signatures of concerned community members is not the same thing as an ATSDR petition.

Who can file a petition?
A person standing and presenting to five people around a table.

Any person or community group can file a petition.

What can ATSDR do in response to a petition?
  • Danger shown by an exclamation point in a triangle surrounded by a magnifying glass.
    Assess whether your community is being exposed to hazardous substances in the environment
  • A plus sign inside of a circle.
    Determine if these chemicals can enter your body and possibly harm your health
  • A person standing and pointing to a chart with graphs on it.
    Educate your community about hazardous substances and how to avoid exposure to them
  • Danger shown by a head with two bones crossed circled by three faceless people.
    Determine how people in your community are being exposed to these substances
  • Two pieces of papers with lines going across the first piece.
    Write a report and recommend actions you can take to reduce your exposure and protect your health
  • A person sitting across a desk from another person.
    Collaborate with local and state health departments to help address your community’s concerns about possible environmental exposures
What can’t ATSDR do in response to a petition?
  • A red X in a red circle.
    Change how a facility operates
  • A red X in a red circle.
    Tell you why there is a lot of illness in your community
  • A red X in a red circle.
    Clean up chemicals in your community
  • A red X in a red circle.
    Change zoning codes
  • A red X in a red circle.
    Make medical diagnoses
  • A red X in a red circle.
    Resolve issues between organizations and people
Now that you know the basics, how do you file a petition?
A hand typing on a laptop

Submit a letter or email to your ATSDR regional office requesting that ATSDR investigate specific environmental health concerns in your community.

Two hands drawing on paper next to another person’s hand

Be sure to share any relevant environmental data or evidence you have that might help ATSDR in evaluating your request.

Find your regional office information here: Office Map | Regional Offices | ATSDR (
What will ATSDR do after receiving your petition request?

Seek to clearly understand the potential problem by gathering information
Someone raising their hand in a classroom with a red sweater on

Listen to community members to understand their concerns

Two hands hand holding a pen and writing in a notebook with a laptop in the background

Search for formal complaints with the city or local health organizations

One hand typing on a laptop with paper to the left

Review previous reports, health assessments, or related research on the problem

Two seated people focusing while another person sits in the background

Engage and involve the community, as needed, throughout the petition process

Two hands typing on a laptop with graphs

Evaluate available information and environmental data to determine if there is enough information to initiate a detailed evaluation of your concern

What happens next?
Three pieces of paper over three arrows pointing down to a box.

Wait for ATSDR to gather any needed environmental data to evaluate your request.

An open envelope holding paper with a circled checkmark.

Receive an approval or denial of your petition, usually within 6–12 months.

Interested in learning more about ATSDR’s petition process?

Visit or call toll free 1-800-232-4636; TTY: (888) 232-6348 and ask to be connected to your ATSDR regional office