ATSDR places an emphasis upon education and training concerning hazardous substances. The agency works closely with community members and organizations to encourage public involvement in ATSDR activities, including hearings and informational meetings which impact residents living in contaminated areas.
Amendments were made to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA), during 1984: These amendments provide for the management of legitimate hazardous waste storage or destruction facilities and authorize ATSDR to conduct public health assessments at these sites when the agency is requested to do so by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), states, or individuals. ATSDR is also authorized to assist EPA in determining which substances should be regulated and the levels at which substances may pose a threat to human health.
With the passage of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA), ATSDR received additional responsibilities in environmental public health. This act broadened ATSDR's responsibilities in the areas of public health assessments, establishment and maintenance of toxicologic databases, dissemination of information, and medical education.
ATSDR and the EPA are required to prepare a prioritized list of substances that are most commonly found at facilities on the National Priorities List, (NPL), and which are determined to pose the most significant potential threat to human health due to their known or suspected toxicity and potential for human exposure at these NPL sites. CERCLA also requires this list to be revised each two years in order to reflect additional information on hazardous substances. The CERCLA priority list is revised and published with a yearly informal review and revision. Each substance on the CERCLA Priority List of Hazardous Substances is a candidate to become the subject of a toxicological profile prepared by ATSDR and subsequently a candidate for the identification of priority data needs. is based on an algorithm that utilizes the following three components: frequency of occurrence at NPL sites, toxicity, and potential for human exposure to the substances found at NPL sites. This algorithm utilizes data from ATSDR's HazDat database, which contains information from ATSDR's public health assessments and health consultations. It should be noted that this priority list is not a list of "most toxic" substances, but rather a prioritization of substances based on a combination of their frequency, toxicity, and potential for human exposure at NPL sites; thus, it is possible for substances with low toxicity but high NPL frequency of occurrence and exposure to be on this priority list. The objective of this priority list is to rank substances across all NPL hazardous waste sites in order to provide guidance in selecting which substances will be the subject of toxicological profiles prepared by ATSDR which are developed from a priority list of 275 substances.