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Pulling Together Introduction

Citizens often look to local health departments (LHDs) for guidance, information, and support in communities with hazardous waste sites. At the same time, many other federal, state, and local agencies and organizations are involved in various aspects of the remediation process at a hazardous waste site. Their skills, resources, mandates, and constraints can be both complementary and overlapping, but mainly confusing for community members trying to understand the bottom line: "Is it safe to drink my water? Play in the dirt? Live here?"

Pulling Together: A Guide to Building Interagency Collaboration at Hazardous Waste Sites is an online tool that provides agencies with a self-evaluating framework to develop strategies for collaborating with other agencies. By pulling together, agencies will build new relationships and strengthen existing ones to better serve their communities. Pulling Together grew out of NACCHO''s Superfund program for addressing interagency collaboration at hazardous waste sites, and can be tailored to address interagency collaboration on many issues such as land use, preparedness, or other public health issues. 

Who should use this tool?

Pulling Together helps local health officials and their community outreach staff ensure that community concerns are effectively addressed at hazardous waste sites. The tool is a useful resource for any level of government agency looking to improve interagency collaboration at a hazardous waste site.

LHDs are often reluctant to get involved in the complexities associated with hazardous waste sites because they are often politicized situations with community frustration and mistrust of the agencies involved. However, these are also the reasons why local health officials and their staff must be involved. By facilitating more effective collaboration among the involved agencies, information may flow more effectively to concerned community members.

Often, health officials will become involved at some stage of the process, whether by choice or necessity; the earlier in the process LHDs become involved, and the more proactive their efforts, the better their position is to gain trust, leverage community resources, and move the remediation process forward.

What''s the difference between Interagency Collaboration and Community Collaboration?

Interagency collaboration is the process of coordinating the responsibilities of the agencies involved at hazardous waste sites and focusing them toward the common goal of addressing the environmental health needs of the community by using their unique mandates, resources, and skills. By increasing the quantity and quality of communication among each other, agencies can more efficiently complete their own work and determine the progress of a site.

Because government agencies must adhere to mandates that can restrict their activities, often they are unable to address the community concerns that hazardous waste sites can raise (such as real estate values), and must focus on environmental health issues. Interagency collaboration activities outlined in Pulling Together provide a process for these agencies to work together to address environmental health issues at hazardous waste sites.

Community collaboration is similar, but can focus on different issues and have varying outcomes with regard to the hazardous wastes site. Community collaboration refers to a relationship and the form of cooperation between a LHD, or other agency, and community residents. Because of varying factors in the community such as the skills and resource level of residents, access to health department information, and the frequency of regular communication, the level of community participation can vary greatly. Also, the interests and focus of the community can range outside of the typical public health realm, encompassing issues such as property values or job loss.

Pulling Together focuses on facilitating collaboration between agencies such as the EPA, ATSDR, state and local health and environmental health departments, state environmental agencies, and other agencies that are responding to an environmental health need created by a hazardous waste site. It is critical that these agencies identify their roles and work together early on to develop long-lasting partnerships. Ultimately, the success of remediation efforts at a hazardous waste site can hinge on the ability of agencies to openly and effectively communicate with each other. However, many have found that when the community is not involved or made aware of activities concerning a site in an open and honest way, they may become distrustful of the agencies involved, and feel that they are being intentionally left out or conspired against.

For more information and resources on successful community collaboration, NACCHO has specifically designed tools to facilitate this process: "Don''t Hazard A Guess: Addressing Community Health Concerns at Hazardous Waste Sites," "Improving Community Collaboration: A Self-Assessment Guide for Local Health Departments," and "Assessment to Action: A Tool for Improving the Health of Communities Affected by Hazardous Waste Sites." A comprehensive list of resources is also available in the bibliography section of this guide.

Who Is Included in Interagency Collaboration?

As mentioned, Pulling Together was designed to facilitate collaboration between agencies such as the EPA, ATSDR, state and local health and environmental health departments, state environmental agencies, and other agencies involved at a hazardous waste sites. Even though Pulling Together is not intended specifically for community collaboration, there are situations where community groups should and could be included in the collaborative process. In the case of a site in Sonoma County, CA, where the synthetic chemical perchloroethylene (PCE) had leached into the groundwater, the community, the LHD, the city of Santa Rosa, and the State Water Resources Control Board all worked closely with the neighborhood association of the affected community. The neighborhood association was able to provide important information on the demographics, dynamics, and concerns of the community, and became an important partner in the remediation process. As such, this site may consider including the neighborhood association as a partner in interagency collaboration efforts. For more information on the experience of the County of Sonoma''s Department of Health Services at the West College avenue site, visit NACCHO''s database of all the NACCHO Environmental Health Education Project grantees.

Pulling Together takes into account certain situations that might merit the incorporation of not only the governmental agencies and the community into the collaborative process, but also the potentially responsible parties (PRPs) at a site. In the case of Marion, OH, a high school was built on a site formerly occupied by the U.S. Army Marion Engineering Depot that warehoused everything from heavy equipment and spare parts to radioactive materials. After high incidence rates of leukemia were found among graduates of the high school, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Ohio EPA, the state health department, and ATSDR became involved in further environmental investigations. In this case, the Army Corps of Engineers was an important agency to involve in the collaborative process because of its previous control over the site and its additional role in remediation. This could be a likely scenario for sites that have been bought by or were previously owned by the state or local government entity.

Essentially, each site is unique and must individually evaluate the appropriate partners for this collaborative effort. NACCHO recommends including agencies and organizations that are looking to improve the health of communities affected by hazardous waste sites in this collaborative process between agencies. The LHD must assess who is and who will be an effective and engaged partner in this process, as this will vary from site to site.

Pulling Together recognizes that open and effective communication is the key to successful interagency collaboration. As a result, it provides users with tools to improve communication with their communities while enhancing the overall cohesiveness and effectiveness of agency efforts at a hazardous waste site. By understanding the roles of other agencies involved at a site, each agency can increase its ability to address public health and environmental health concerns. It is NACCHO''s hope and intention that Pulling Together will guide LHDs towards effective and successful interagency collaboration at hazardous waste sites.