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Ask an expert: Reducing harmful effects of hazardous wastes

Dr. Stephanie Miles-Richardson is an environmental health scientist in Atlanta, Georgia  

December 21, 2000
Web posted at: 12:15 PM EST (1715 GMT)

Question: What does the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry do and how does it differ from the Environmental Protection Agency?

Answer: The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is the principal public health agency involved with hazardous waste issues. The agency is responsible for preventing or reducing the harmful effects of exposures to hazardous substances on human health and quality of life.

The agency is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It was created by the Superfund law in 1980. That law started a program to find and clean up the most dangerous hazardous waste sites. The agency is responsible for determining as best as possible whether people have harmful health effects from their exposure to hazardous substances.

The agency is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, with 10 regional offices and an office in Washington. The multidisciplinary staff of about 400 includes epidemiologists, physicians, toxicologists, engineers, public health educators and support staff. We educate doctors, other health-care professionals and communities about the health effects of hazardous substances and how to lessen their exposure to hazardous substances.

Unlike the Environmental Protection Agency, ATSDR is not a regulatory agency. It is a public health agency that advises the EPA on the health aspects of hazardous waste sites or spills. We make recommendations to the EPA when specific actions are needed to protect the public's health. For example, ATSDR might recommend providing an alternative water supply, removing contaminated material or restricting access to a site. The EPA usually follows these recommendations. However, the agency cannot require the EPA to follow its recommendations.

Dr. Stephanie Miles-Richardson is a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service and is stationed at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in Atlanta, Georgia. She is an environmental health scientist in the research implementation branch of the toxicology division.

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