Purpose of This Guidance

This section describes the purpose of this guidance and how it can be helpful to different users.

Health Assessors’ Responsibilities in the PHA Process

In the United States and its territories, there are thousands of industrial and commercial facilities and hazardous waste disposal sites. People may be exposed to contaminants that are present at some of these sites.

This guidance outlines the steps of the PHA process. Health assessors will learn how to:

  • Obtain, compile, and interpret sampling data, and put that information into meaningful perspective.
  • Evaluate whether, and to what extent, people are being exposed to site-related contaminants
  • Evaluate the extent to which physical hazards (e.g., unsafe buildings, open pits and mine shafts, debris, abandoned or dangerous equipment, lagoons) pose a threat.
  • Encourage cooperative efforts among those involved in the PHA process with evaluating data and drawing public health conclusions.
  • Establish community relationships, engage community members, and communicate scientific information, significant findings, and other information gained through the evaluation process.

This guidance describes the overall prescriptive PHA process, but it also presents flexible evaluation tools and approaches to address unique circumstances at individual sites.

Applying the approaches described in this guidance will help ensure consistent, scientifically defensible products and outcomes. Your professional judgment will play an important role in guiding your activities, as will experience and consultation with peers.

Who Can Use This Guidance?
  • New health assessors and others involved in the PHA process who need detailed, how-to information
  • Experienced health assessors who desire a reference guide, resources, and tools
  • Members of the public who want to know more about the PHA process
  • Federal, state, and local partners who ATSDR collaborates with during the PHA process

Tips for the PHA Process

Health assessors should keep the following points in mind during the PHA process:

  • It is not always a linear process. Many assessment activities can occur simultaneously or require repeated efforts.
  • Sites are different. Not every aspect of the overall process will apply to every site.
  • A crucial component includes identifying the public health concerns of the site community and engaging with the public.
  • Good communication among all involved parties—ATSDR, other federal, state, and/or local agencies, the community, and any other stakeholders—is essential.
  • Effective fact finding and thorough scientific evaluation are integral components.
  • Considering multiple data sets is often necessary, as is identifying gaps and limitations in available data.
  • Reach out to ATSDR subject matter experts (SMEs) for resources, reviews, and technical assistance with evaluating data, exposure pathways, and health implications of exposure.

If a health assessor determines that an urgent health hazard exists, take immediate action by notifying your supervisor before completing the PHA process. If the health assessor determines that one pathway, contaminant, or issue is an urgent hazard, focus the evaluation on this issue to expedite the evaluation process. This often occurs in the form of a letter health consultation or health advisory.

Page last reviewed: April 14, 2022