Glossary of Superfund ATSDR Terms
Sources: ATSDR, EPA

The process of taking in, as when a sponge takes up water. Chemicals can be absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream and then transported to other organs. Chemicals can also be absorbed into the bloodstream after breathing or swallowing.

Occurring over a short time, usually a few minutes or hours. Anacute exposure can result in short-term or long-term health effects. An acute effect happens a short time (up to 1 year) after exposure.

Ambient Surrounding
For example, ambient air is usually outdoor air (as opposed to indoor air).

Applied Research
An investigative study in which the results are used in actual practice.

As the lead agency within the Public Health Service for implementing the health-related provisions of CERCLA, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is charged under the Superfund Act to assess the presence and nature of health hazards at specific Superfund sites, to help prevent or reduce further exposure and the illnesses that result from such exposures, and to expand the knowledge base about health effects from exposure to hazardous substances.

Background Level
A typical or average level of a chemical in the environment. Background often refers to naturally occurring or uncontaminated levels.

Biological Indicators of Exposure Study
A study designed to use biomedical testing or the measurement of a chemical (analyte), its metabolite, or another marker of exposure in human body fluids or tissues in order to validate human exposure to a hazardous substance.

Biological Monitoring
Measuring chemicals in biological materials (blood, urine, breath, etc.) to determine whether chemical exposure in humans, animals, or plants has occurred.

Biological Uptake
The transfer of hazardous substances from the environment to plants, animals, and humans. This may be evaluated through environmental measurements, such as measurement of the amount of the substance in an organ known to be susceptible to that substance. More commonly, biological dose measurements are used to determine whether exposure has occurred. The presence of a contaminant, or its metabolite, in human biologic specimens, such as blood, hair, or urine, is used to confirm exposure and can be an independent variable in evaluating the relationship between the exposure and any observed adverse health effects.

Biomedical Testing
Biological testing of persons to evaluate a qualitative or quantitative change in a physiologic function that may be predictive of a health impairment resulting from exposure to hazardous substance(s).

Body Burden
The total amount of a chemical in the body. Some chemicals build up in the body because they are stored in fat or bone or are eliminated very slowly.

A Community Advisory Group (CAG) is made up representatives of diverse community interests. Its purpose is to provide a public forum for community members to present and discuss their needs and concerns related to the Superfund decision-making process.

Any substance that may produce cancer.

Case Study
The medical or epidemiologic evaluation of a single person or a small number of individuals to determine descriptive information about their health status or potential for exposure through interview or biomedical testing.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, also known as Superfund.

Occuring over a long period of time (more than 1 year).

Clean Air Act (CAA)
The Superfund law incorporates those substances listed as hazardous air pollutants under section 112 of the Clean Air Act (CAA) as CERCLA hazardous substances, which is why the CAA is important to Superfund. In addition, Superfund cleanup responses must comply with CAA requirements. The CAA restricts the kinds and amounts of pollutants that may be released into the air and requires permits.

Clean Water Act (CWA)
The Superfund law incorporates those substances listed as hazardous water pollutants under section 311 (b)(4) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) as CERCLA hazardous substances. Section 311 of the CWA also addresses pollution from oil and hazardous substance releases, providing EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard with the authority to establish a program for preventing, preparing for, and responding to oil spills and hazardous substance releases that occur in navigable waters of the United States

Cluster Investigation
A review of an unusual number, real or perceived, of health events (for example, reports of cancer) grouped together in time and location. Cluster investigations are designed to confirm case reports; determine whether they represent an unusual disease occurrence; and, if possible, explore possible causes and environmental factors.

Community Health Investigation
Medical or epidemiologic evaluation of descriptive health information about individual persons or a population of persons to evaluate and determine health concerns and to assess the likelihood that they may be linked to exposure to hazardous substances.

The amount of one substance dissolved or contained in a given amount of another. For example, sea water contains a higher concentration of salt than fresh water.

Any substance or material that enters a system (the environment, human body, food, etc.) where it is not normally found.

Referring to the skin. Dermal absorption means absorption through the skin.

The amount of substance to which a person is exposed. Dose often takes body weight into account.

Environmental Justice (EJ)
Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

Environmental Contamination
The presence of hazardous substances in the environment. From the public health perspective, environmental contamination is addressed when it potentially affects the health and quality of life of people living and working near the contamination.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Environmental Protection Agency was established as an independent agency on December 2, 1970 during President Nixon's term in office. The mission of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment air, water, and land upon which life depends

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), also known as SARA Title III, was enacted in November 1986. This law provides an infrastructure at the state and local levels to plan for chemical emergencies. Facilities that store, use, or release certain chemicals, may be subject to various reporting requirements. Reported information is then made publicly available so that interested parties may become informed about potentially dangerous chemicals in their community.

The study of the occurrence and causes of health effects in human populations. An epidemiological study often compares two groups of people who are alike except for one factor, such as exposure to a chemical or the presence of a health effect. The investigators try to determine if any factor is associated with the health effect.

Contact with a chemical by swallowing, by breathing, or by direct contact (such as through the skin or eyes). Exposure may be short term (acute) or long term (chronic).

Passed in 1972, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) regulates the manufacture and use of pesticides and allows EPA to restrict or prohibit use of particularly harmful pesticides.

Geographic Information System (GIS)
A computer hardware and software system designed to collect, manipulate, analyze, and display spatially referenced data for solving complex resource, environmental, and social problems.

A source of risk that does not necessarily imply potential for occurrence. A hazard produces risk only if an exposure pathway exists, and if exposures create the possibility of adverse consequences.

Health Investigation
Any investigation of a defined population, using epidemiologic methods, which would assist in determining exposures or possible public health impact by defining health problems requiring further investigation through epidemiologic studies, environmental monitoring or sampling, and surveillance.

Health Outcomes Study
An investigation of exposed persons designed to assist in identifying exposure or effects on public health. Health studies also define the health problems that require further inquiry by means of, for example, a health surveillance or epidemiologic study.

Health Surveillance
The periodic medical screening of a defined population for a specific disease or for biological markers of disease for which the population is, or is thought to be, at significantly increased risk. The program should include a mechanism to refer for treatment those persons who test positive for disease (also called Medical Monitoring).

Swallowing (such as eating or drinking). Chemicals can get in or on food, drink, utensils, cigarettes, or hands where they can be ingested. After ingestion, chemicals can be absorbed into the blood and distributed throughout the body.

Breathing. Exposure may occur from inhaling contaminants because they can be deposited in the lungs, taken into the blood, or both.

Soil, water, air, plants, animals, or any other parts of the environment that can contain contaminants. Metabolism All the chemical reactions that enable the body to work. For example, food is metabolized (chemically changed) to supply the body with energy. Chemicals can be metabolized and made either more or less harmful by the body.

Any product of metabolism.

Illness or disease. Morbidity rate is the number of illnesses or cases of disease in a population.

National Priorities List (NPL)
The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) listing of sites that have undergone preliminary assessment and site inspection to determine which locations pose immediate threat to persons living or working near the release. These sites are most in need of cleanup.

National Toxicology Program (NTP)
NTP conducts toxicological testing on those substances most frequently found at sites on the National Priorities List of the EPA, and which also have the greatest potential for human exposure.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Superfund Basic Research Program, provides funding to 18 programs at 70 universities and institutions around the United States to study the human health effects of hazardous substances in the environment, especially those found at uncontrolled, leaking waste disposal sites

The mission of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is to save lives, prevent injuries and protect the health of America's workers. To accomplish this, federal and state governments must work in partnership with the more than 100 million working men and women and their six and a half million employers who are covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970

An area of chemicals in a particular medium, such as air or groundwater, moving away from its source in a long band or column. A plume can be a column of smoke from a chimney or chemicals moving with groundwater.

Potentially Responsible Parties The Superfund law (CERCLA) allows EPA to respond to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances into the environment. Under CERCLA, potentially responsible parties (PRPs) are expected to conduct or pay for the cleanup. The Superfund enforcement program identifies the PRPs at the site; negotiates with PRPs to do the cleanup; and recovers from PRPs the costs spent by EPA at Superfund cleanups.

The primary goals of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) are to protect human health and the environment from the potential hazards of waste disposal, to conserve energy and natural resources, to reduce the amount of waste generated, and to ensure that wastes are managed in an environmentally sound manner.

A system for collecting and maintaining, in a structured record, information on specific persons from a defined population. Preliminary analyses and reviews are performed.

In risk assessment, the probability that something will cause injury, combined with the potential severity of that injury.

Route of Exposure
The way in which a person may contact a chemical substance. For example, drinking (ingestion) and bathing (skin contact) are two different routes of exposure to contaminants that may be found in water.

The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) amended the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) on October 17, 1986. SARA reflected EPA's experience in administering the complex Superfund program during its first six years and made several important changes and additions to the program.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) ensures that our tap water is fit to drink. Passed in 1974, SDWA sets national drinking water standards for public systems that deliver water to the tap. SDWA is used with RCRA and CERCLA to protect and cleanup groundwater by setting water quality standards.

Another name for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA).

Activities Those activities that evaluate exposure or trends in adverse health effects over a specified period of time. Surveillance activities address the ongoing systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of health data in the process of describing and monitoring a health event. Data obtained through surveillance are very important for appropriate decisions regarding the planning, evaluation, or implementation of public health interventions.

Technical Assistance to Brownfields Communities (TAB) helps communities to clean and redevelop properties that have been damaged or undervalued by environmental contamination. The purpose of these efforts is to create better jobs, increase the local tax base, improve neighborhood environments, and enhance the overall quality of life.

A Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) provides money for activities that help communities participate in decision-making at eligible Superfund sites. An initial grant up to $50,000 is available for any Superfund site that is on the National Priorities List (NPL) or proposed for listing on the NPL and a response action has begun

Technical Outreach for Communities (TOSC) uses educational and technical resources to help community groups understand the technical issues involving the hazardous waste sites in their midst. TOSC aims to empower communities to participate substantively in the decision-making process regarding their hazardous substance problems.

Toxics Release Inventory (TRI)
A database, containing information concerning waste management activities and the release of toxic chemicals by facilities that manufacture, process, or otherwise use said materials. Using this information, citizens, businesses, and governments can work together to protect the quality of their land, air, and water.

Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
This law, passed in 1976, requires tests of chemicals that may harm human health or the environment; reviews of new chemical substances; limits on the availability of some existing chemicals; and import certification standards to ensure that imported chemicals comply with domestic rules. TSCA bars the introduction of chemicals that may pose unreasonable risks to people or the environment, when the risks outweigh possible economic and social benefits. TSCA also regulates existing chemicals, particularly polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). For PCBs and a few other chemicals, TSCA prohibits or limits use and regulates handling, storage and disposal.

Frequently Asked Questions About Contaminants Found at Hazardous Waste Sites. ATSDR ToxFAQs is a series of summaries about hazardous substances being developed by the ATSDR Division of Toxicology. Answers are provided to the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about exposure to hazardous substances found around hazardous waste sites and the effects of exposure on human health

Underground Storage Tank (UST)
A tank and any underground piping connected to the tank that has at least 10 percent of its combined volume underground. Under RCRA, EPA has established regulatory programs to prevent, detect, and clean up releases from USTs containing petroleum or hazardous substances

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Substances containing carbon and different proportions of other elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, fluorine, chlorine, bromine, sulfur, or nitrogen; these substances easily become vapors or gases. A significant number of the VOCs are commonly used as solvents (paint thinners, lacquer thinner, degreasers, and dry cleaning fluids).


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© 2007-2014 Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington