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Glossary of Terms

Common Terms used in Environmental Health Assessment

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is a federal public health agency with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, and 10 regional offices in the United States.

Cluster Investigation
A process to determine whether the incidence or prevalence of specific adverse health effect(s) or symptom(s) is more than what is normally expected in a geographical area or among a group of people.

Hazardous Waste Site
A location where hazardous wastes are stored, treated, incinerated or otherwise disposed.

Public Health Hazard Categories
Public health hazard categories are statements about whether people could be harmed by conditions present at the site in the past, present, or future. One or more hazard categories might be appropriate for each site. The five public health hazard categories are no public health hazard, no apparent public health hazard, indeterminate public health hazard, public health hazard, and urgent public health hazard.

  • "Urgent Public Health Hazard"
    Sites that have certain physical features or evidence of short-term (less than 1 year), site-related chemical exposure that could result in adverse health effects. This category requires quick intervention to stop people from being exposed.
  • "Public Health Hazard"
    Sites with certain physical features or evidence of chronic, site-related chemical exposure that could result in adverse health effects.
  • "No Apparent Public Health Hazard"
    Sites where exposure to site-related chemicals could have occurred in the past or is still occurring but the exposures are not at levels expected to cause adverse health effects.
  • "Indeterminate Public Health Hazard"
    Sites where important information is lacking (missing or has not yet been gathered) about site-related chemical exposures.
  • "No Public Health Hazard"
    Sites where this is evidence of an absence of exposure to site-related chemicals.

Public Health Assessment (PHA)
An ATSDR document that examines hazardous substances, health outcomes, and community concerns at a hazardous waste site to determine whether people could be harmed from coming into contact with those substances. The PHA also lists actions that need to be taken to protect public health. More details about the assessment process...

Public Health Comment 
An opportunity for the public to comment on EHAP's findings or proposed activities contained in draft reports or documents. The public comment period is a limited time period during which comments will be accepted.

Public Health Consultation (PHC)
Public Health Consultations are similar to PHAs (Public Health Assessments), but they usually focus on one specific, site-related public health question. Health consultations can also address certain requests, such as if an organization or citizen has a specific health concern related to a site. A series of health consultations can be written for one site. This report may provide advice on a specific public health issue related to real or possible human exposure to toxic material, summarize the findings of preliminary health investigations, and recommend specific actions for public health response.

Superfund Site 
A hazardous waste site which has been prioritized and put on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priority List for clean-up. Superfund is the common name for the United States environmental law officially known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which was enacted by the United States Congress on December 11, 1980 in response to the Love Canal disaster. The Superfund law was created to protect people, families, communities and others from heavily contaminated toxic waste sites that have been abandoned.

Technical Assists 
A technical assist (TA) is a verbal or written response, documented in writing, to a request for technical/scientific consultation/information. Such assists include responses to phone calls, letters, and/or e-mails, both internal and external.