The Mission of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is to protect and promote the well-being of all people in Virginia. The VDH is mandated by the Virginia General Assembly to serve as the state’s toxic substance information agency. The Toxicology Program (Program) is staffed with experts that serve this mandate. The Program is responsible for evaluating the threat to human health of sites with environmental contamination and for advising other state partners, local health departments, health care providers and residents of potential risks to health and ways to reduce exposure. Virginia has 63 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) sites, of which 29 sites are on the National Priority List (NPL), 123 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) corrective actions sites, and about 1200 brownfield sites. Under a previous cooperative agreement, the Program wrote health consultations for five NPL sites managed by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and undergoing five-year reviews: C&R Battery, Rentokil, Saunders Supply Company, Buckingham Landfill, and Avtex Fibers. Subsequently, C&R Battery was removed from the NPL. Funding under this opportunity is necessary to enable continuing work on evaluating the potential for adverse health effects for community members near these and other NPL sites and formulating recommendations on ways to mitigate these effects. In addition to NPL sites, there are other instances of environmental contamination that are drawing attention from media and elected officials. Most notably, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been found in groundwater and surface water in three areas across Virginia, with the potential to affect drinking water. The Program is currently assisting with the response to these findings, and this issue will be a focus of attention in Virginia for the near future.
Based upon the results of environmental assessments, the Program will make recommendations to partners, communities, and healthcare providers on ways to reduce or eliminate exposures. Since many contaminated sites are in poor and marginalized communities, site assessment and recommendations to protect health are a key part of VDH’s efforts to advance environmental health equity. In the short-term, the Program’s goal is to disseminate information on sites and potential hazards to partners, stakeholders, and community members promptly. Residents want to know what they might be exposed to and how they can protect themselves and their families, while partners and stakeholders need information to direct their activities and respond to citizens’ concerns. Prompt communication of findings also makes it more likely that Program will achieve the short- and intermediate-term outcome of successful acceptance and implementation of recommendations by partners, stakeholders, and community members. Successful implementation of recommendations will result in the long-term intended outcome of decreased, eliminated or prevented exposures to hazardous chemicals.
During the project period performance will be assessed continually. The Program will meet monthly with ATSDR Region III staff and state partners to ensure partner needs are met. Like ATSDR, the Program is committed to the prevention of harmful environmental exposures and is seeking federal cooperative agreement funding to maximize its capacity to promote a safer environment for all Virginians.