Public Health Assessments Incomplete and of Questionable Value Gao ID: RCED-91-178 August 1, 1991

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO assessed the quality and usefulness of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's (ATSDR) health assessments of Superfund sites.

GAO held that: (1) the quality of ATSDR health assessments suffered due to legislation requiring ATSDR to complete assessments for 951 sites in a little over 2 years; (2) although ATSDR met the deadline, it did so by labelling documents prepared prior to legislation as health assessments and conducting assessments without visiting sites; (3) later assessments improved technically, since ATSDR had fewer sites to assess and it relied less exclusively on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) file information; (4) due to the deadline, ATSDR failed to conduct required quality control checks on its assessments and consult external sources to review the assessments; (5) ATSDR planned to review previously published assessments to ensure that they complied with legislative requirements and redrafted its health assessment guidance to require that future health assessments emphasize community health concerns and consider existing community health statistics; (6) EPA did not find ATSDR health assessments useful, since the assessments duplicated information in EPA analyses and recommended actions EPA already planned or required, but EPA found ATSDR health consultations useful; (7) most of the state and local government officials and community representatives GAO contacted did not know about ATSDR health assessments of local sites and those who had seen the assessments did not find them useful; and (8) health assessments did not include adequate information to determine the need for more detailed health studies.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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