How does the Site Assessment and Consultation (SAC) unit evaluate a site?

The evaluation process has four parts:

  1. Evaluate exposure
  2. Evaluate toxicity
  3. Characterize health concerns and develop recommendations
  4. Engage the community

(1) Evaluate exposure
In order to evaluate exposure, MDH scientists review information about environmental conditions at the site. They determine, from available information, how much contamination is present and where it is located.  MDH then evaluates exposure by determining how often and how much people are exposed to contaminants in air, water, and soil.  The presence of a toxic chemical does not necessarily mean people have been or are exposed to a health hazard.

People may come into contact with chemicals in many ways. The most common routes of exposure are skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion.  In addition, a fetus or breastfeeding child can be exposed to chemicals that entered its mother's body.

(2) Evaluate toxicity
When there is evidence that people are, or could be, exposed to contaminants, MDH scientists seek to determine whether public health is affected. The evaluation is based on the best available scientific information on the toxicity of the contaminants.

MDH evaluates individual chemicals to understand their specific health effects and identifies populations that may be the most vulnerable to the chemicals effects.  The toxic effects of a chemical can be different from one person to another, based on factors such as age, body weight, nutritional status, the exposure route, and a person's genetic makeup.

(3) Characterize health concerns and develop recommendations
MDH issues reports with our conclusions about any potential public health concerns posed by a hazardous chemical site. We also make recommendations for preventing or reducing human exposure to contaminants.

The role of MDH in sites where there are contaminant releases is primarily advisory, not regulatory. Our evaluations typically recommend actions to be taken by other agencies that do have regulatory authority-including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

However, if there is an immediate health threat, MDH will issue a public health advisory. MDH notifies people of the hazard and works in cooperation with others to resolve the problem.

(4) Engage the community

Outreach and health education activities insure that community health concerns are included in our evaluation and recommendations. We ask for input from community members surrounding the site, local, state, and federal government stakeholders, and those responsible for site cleanup.

The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides technical and financial support for site evaluation activities.

See our Contact Us page for information about how to contact the Site Assessment and Consultation Unit.

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Updated Monday, October 27, 2014 at 03:40PM