What is a Hazardous Waste Site?
An Emergency Response team from either the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
or the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are usually the first
governmental agency staff to investigate a hazardous waste site in
the state of Florida. If the site fits certain criteria, it is called a Superfund
site. The U.S. EPA decides which sites are on this list and how
best to clean them up. See the
EPA Superfund pages for more information.
As of December 2010, Florida has
hazardous waste sites on the National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL lists the worst hazardous waste sites
in the nation. The NPL
site listing process is available from the EPA. The US EPA also maintains a searchable
database containing information on hazardous waste sites, potential
hazardous waste sites, and remedial activities across the nation,
including sites that are on the National Priorities List (NPL) or
being considered for the NPL. This database is called the
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability
Information System (CERCLIS
What does the Florida Department of Health
(DOH) Health Assessment Team do about hazardous waste sites?
- Receives sampling data from the environmental agencies that
test air, water, and soil
- Analyzes the data in terms of human health
- Seeks input from the people who may be affected
- Publicizes findings and makes health recommendations to
residents and other agencies
What is the Florida DOH unable to do about
hazardous waste sites?
The Florida DOH does not:
- Make or enforce laws or rules concerning hazardous waste
- Regulate or monitor industries that may be potential sources
of hazardous waste
- Provide medical services related to hazardous waste
exposures. (Note: Some county health departments provide limited
medical services to qualified residents, but not specifically
because they may be affected by hazardous waste)
- Cleanup sites or relocate people
- Take environmental samples (Note: Some county health
departments test private drinking water wells)
- Perform worker investigations
How can chemicals harm human health?
A chemical cannot harm anyone unless they come into contact with
it. The harm from most chemicals has to do with how much someone is
exposed, how long they were exposed, how often they were exposed,
and how they were exposed.
The way you come into contact with a chemical is important.
There are three ways people come into contact with chemicals:
- Ingesting (eating, drinking, licking lips, touching mouth
with unwashed hands, etc.)
- Inhaling (breathing a chemical in)
- Skin contact (touching a chemical)
Most chemicals are harmless until you contact a certain amount.
That amount varies with each chemical. Most can be harmful in large
amounts. Common table salt, a chemical compound of sodium and
chloride, is a good exampled of this. In a small amount, it improves
the taste of food. In a large amount, it makes food taste bad,
and in even larger amounts, it can harm health.
Different chemicals work on our bodies in different ways.
Radon, for example, does very little damage if it is in the water
you drink. On the other hand, if it is in the air you breathe, it
can do much more damage.
Lead is another example. Lead is a common chemical found at
Florida's hazardous waste sites. You can get lead on your skin and
it will not pose much of a health threat. It is more damaging when
you ingest (or eat) it. Children eat paint chips; the chips can have
a sweet flavor if they contain lead. People, and especially
children, put their hands on or in their mouths after touching dirt
with lead in it.
The Florida DOH and the federal agency that funds the program,
the Agency for Toxic Chemicals and Disease Registry (ATSDR), need to
know exactly what chemicals are at a site, how much of each kind,
what ways do people contact them, and how often. The answers
to each of these questions can make the difference between whether a
chemical is harmful or not. Finding the answers to all of them is
the only way to know if a chemical may be harmful.
DOH uses federal guidelines to assess whether or not the levels
of a each chemical is enough to be a health threat. ATSDR keeps up
with the latest research and regularly updates its guidelines.
This assures the public of having the best available information on
any known health effects from exposure to chemicals at hazardous
How does the Florida DOH communicate with
residents living near hazardous waste sites?
The Florida DOH wants to make sure that everyone living in the
area near a hazardous waste site has accurate and timely
information. They communicate with residents in several ways,
- Newsletters and fact sheets sent via direct mail, email or
- Press releases and briefings
- Open-house style public meetings