Each of these program areas are described below:
Public Health Assessments and Health Consultations: The program maintains a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to conduct public health assessments and health consultations for contaminated waste sites and other locations where people may be concerned about exposure to environmental contamination. When conducting a public health assessment or health consultation, risk assessors and epidemiologists review site-related environmental data and other information about the chemicals released at the site. The risk assessors derive estimated doses of substances to which people in the community might be exposed. These doses are compared to health based guidelines or regulatory standards. However, unlike a risk assessment, the public health assessment also factors in information from local residents about actual exposures, including any health data that might be available. The process involves examining the relationship between actual exposures to contaminants and subsequent signs of disease and illness.
Site–Specific Risk Assessments: Health Risk Assessment staff review and evaluate site-specific human health risk assessments conducted for regulatory purposes using detailed information about the site, contaminants, and potential exposures to humans. To characterize the risk of harm, risk assessors consider current and reasonably foreseeable site activities and uses. The scope and level of effort for a site-specific risk characterization reflects the nature of this type of assessment and is performed in a manner consistent with scientifically acceptable risk assessment practices adopted by DES, the US Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental regulatory agencies. Considering the effort and cost associated with a site-specific human health risk assessment a detailed scope of work is usually submitted for review and comment prior to the actual risk characterization being submitted. The staff also review risk assessments related to the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the indoor air of residential and commercial structures associated with the release of petroleum products and the migration of VOC vapors from groundwater.
Health Impacts of Drinking Water Contaminants: The staff provide risk evaluations of private drinking water supplies to assist DES regulatory personnel and private environmental consultants with the investigation and remediation of sites with contaminated groundwater. The program develops drinking water standards for new chemicals and revises existing standards as new scientific knowledge becomes available. The program also develops and periodically updates fact sheets summarizing health information on contaminants commonly detected in drinking water.
Environmental Health Education: Education and outreach are key to increasing awareness about the links between the environment and human health. Staff take an active role in providing information to on how chemicals in our environment can impact health, and in helping to identify and address environmental health concerns in communities where toxic substances have been released into the environment. Environmental health education issues addressed by staff range from publicizing Air Quality Action Days and fish consumption guidelines, to conducting public information meetings on the health impacts of contaminated sites. Staff also provide environmental justice presentations to universities, regional groups and in-house training to DES staff.