NACCHO, in cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, annually provides resources to local public health agencies for addressing community health concerns associated with hazardous waste sites.
NACCHO worked with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to coordinate partnership workshops. The purpose of these workshops was to increase communication among local environmental and health officials, state environmental and health officials, community residents, EPA, and ATSDR at hazardous waste sites.
Improved communication enhances the overall cohesiveness and effectiveness of hazardous waste programs among different agencies. Such overall improvement enables agencies to coordinate and focus their activities and share resources on community health concerns and minimize exposures to hazardous substances. Local health officials (LHOs) are often the primary contact for concerned citizens who are more likely to turn to, or trust, a local official. LHOs must be informed and capable of addressing community concerns and questions, and must serve in a leadership capacity to coordinate public health issues among all interested and affected parties.
The basis for this partnership began in 1997 when NACCHO developed and distributed a questionnaire along with NACCHO materials to 10 EPA regions. The results of the survey indicated that EPA staff needs a better understanding of the roles of the LHDs, and more information about LHDs’ capacity to address hazardous waste concerns. Additionally, EPA officials wanted strategies to initiate collaborative activities with LHDs. NACCHO proposed to hold workshops, bringing all levels of government together to address these information needs.
Workshop Format and Outcome
The first Public Health Partnerships at Hazardous Waste Sites workshop, held in Atlanta in 1998, was an opportunity for agencies to network and share problems and solutions. NACCHO, ATSDR, and the EPA continued to organize and conduct these regional hazardous waste workshops in Chicago (1999) and Helena, MT (2000).
The interactive workshop, tailored to regional needs, creates a forum for participants to improve communication and to strengthen relationships among LHDs, EPA, ATSDR, and state environmental health agencies. They also foster a better understanding of the roles, responsibilities, and involvement of the different agencies in improving efforts at hazardous waste sites.
Workshop participants discussed the roles and responsibilities of each agency working on a hazardous waste site. They agreed that agencies should initially meet and define roles and responsibilities to ensure they speak to the public with one cohesive voice. During the workshop, participants separated into groups by specific hazardous waste sites to explore the linkages that are working or that have failed owing to communication problems, and overall strategies for improvement. Sessions also included discussion of interagency communication through an environmental software, GIS, and emergency response.