Releasing Documents

This section describes the steps you might be required to take, depending on the document type, before you can release it to the public and other stakeholders.

You might need to take additional steps before finalizing your document and sharing it with others. These actions vary by document type, but can include data validation, public comment and response, and release activities. When releasing site documents, you will work with ATSDR’s administrative support specialists to help prepare and process your written materials.

Data Validation

Before you release a written document, you might need to submit a data validation draft for review by data providers and those who can give unique interpretations of the data (e.g., community groups, private organizations). This review ensures that the data used to prepare the document is current, complete, and presented accurately. Follow the procedure outlined below:

  • Share only the Introduction, Exposure Pathways, and Data Screening sections for review.
  • Put a watermark on each page shared for data validation release that says “Predecisional — Not for release.”
  • The document will go through ATSDR’s review process before the draft is released to the data provider.
  • Request that data providers and those interpreting the data who are not federal or state entities (e.g., community members, private organizations) sign a non-disclosure agreement before reviewing the draft.
  • Provide written responses to all data validation draft reviewers addressing their comments.
  • Request any additional data identified during the draft review for consideration and use in your document.

Public Comments

After addressing comments on your data validation draft and completing ATSDR’s review process, you might need to release a public comment version. That version will have a set deadline for receiving comments (typically 30 days). However, you can extend the public comment period to ensure that all interested parties have a reasonable opportunity to comment. To encourage community members to read and comment on your documents, develop a simple concise summary (e.g., a fact sheet) describing the main conclusions and recommendations. Make the documents accessible and announce their availability.

Some of the many ways to let community members know about document releases include the following:

  • Place copies in local information repositories identified by the community (e.g., libraries).
  • Provide copies to other federal, state, and local environmental and public health agencies and other organizations, partners, and stakeholders who have an interest or engagement with the site.
  • Use postal mailing lists and community contacts to send printed copies of your report to interested stakeholders. If your mailing list is large, send a fact sheet summarizing the findings and provide the full report upon request.
  • In communities where people have internet access, distribute the report by email.
  • Issue a press release to the local media and post the press release in ATSDR’s Press Room website and on social media platforms, as appropriate.
  • Send announcement letters or flyers to key community contacts you have established over the course of the process, such as schools and faith or civic organizations.
  • Hold a public meeting or public availability session during the public comment period (e.g., 2 weeks after release).

After the public comment period has ended, you will need to review and respond to all comments received. Include comments received and responses in an appendix of the final report. The detail you provide in your responses will depend on the complexity of the issues and public health implications. Consider the following factors when compiling and responding to public comments:

  • Do not identify the commenters (e.g., individual names or private organizations) when presenting the comments.
  • Provide a brief introduction describing the number of comments from various entities.
  • Package comments and responses to maximize readability. For example, it is sometimes easier to read a table that presents each comment and response side-by-side.
  • Group similar comments by topic or theme to help convey the logic behind responses. Summarize comments expressing the same question or concern.
  • Present succinct and clear comments verbatim to avoid misinterpreting them. Use professional judgment when editing comments, and always accurately and clearly present the essence of the issue.
  • Focus on addressing technical issues related to the PHA process or to the document’s conclusions. Acknowledge comments that are not specific to site-related public health issues, but explain that they are beyond the document’s scope. Refer the reader to another agency or group for more help where appropriate.
  • When considering whether and how to respond to public comments — especially those comments that contain arguably inflammatory statements — remember that a log of all comments received is kept with the official site file as part of the site administrative record. The administrative record is available for public inspection upon written request.

Final Document Release and Follow-Up Activities

The response to public comments also undergoes ATSDR’s review process. After your document is approved and finalized, you will need to release it to the public and communicate the key results, limitations, and recommendations. If ATSDR or other stakeholders will be conducting any follow-up activities at the site (such as additional environmental sampling or health education), you might need to plan community engagement activities in conjunction with these actions.

Place a copy of the final document (and companion documents, such as fact sheets, if you have developed them) on the ATSDR website and in all identified information repositories. You can also use various communication methods to share information about the availability of the report to the community. For example, you can mail a copy of the final report and fact sheet, distribute press releases, provide newsletters, send emails, and put messages on social media, such as Twitter. At a public meeting, public availability session, or small group partner meeting, be prepared to discuss ATSDR’s findings, follow-up activities, and next steps using plain language.