About the National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures

Understanding the Process

Through the National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures, thousands of people from across the United States participated in developing an Action Agenda with recommendations to help government agencies and other organizations strengthen their efforts to protect the public from harmful chemical exposures. This independent, voluntary effort was facilitated by RESOLVE, a neutral nonprofit, consensus-building organization in Summer 2009-Spring 2011. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (CDC/ATSDR) provided the funding for the project. Other organizations that helped to plan and manage key components of the National Conversation process included the American Public Health Association (APHA), Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), and WestEd.

The National Conversation was conducted in a participatory, collaborative, and transparent manner, in line with the White House Open Government Initiative. Participants brought the experience and perspectives of communities, government, health professionals, businesses, NGOs, and research institutions. Web dialogues, community conversations, and public comment opportunities encouraged public participation at key points throughout the process. Individuals from multiple sectors collaborated through work groups and the Leadership Council to author work group reports and the Action Agenda. These groups used members’ knowledge, input received through the public participation opportunities and additional research to inform their recommendations. Click the map below to view National Conversation participant locations. Transparency was enhanced by holding all Leadership Council meetings publicly, announcing them in advance, and posting meeting summaries on a public website. Summaries of work group meeting summaries were also posted on the website.

National Conversation Participant Locations
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Map of National Conversation Participants 

A detailed description of each of the major project components follows.

Leadership Council

A Leadership Council, composed of approximately 35 national environmental public health leaders from multiple sectors, led the National Conversation process and authored the final Action Agenda, using input gathered throughout the process.

The group was co-chaired by Nsedu Obot Witherspoon of the Children’s Environmental Health Network, and Henry Anderson of the Wisconsin Division of Public Health. RESOLVE convened and facilitated the Leadership Council with support from CDC/ATSDR. The Leadership Council held eight meetings, summaries of which are available here.

The Leadership Council’s draft Action Agenda was posted on RESOLVE’s website for a one month public comment period. The draft Action Agenda and comments that were submitted on it are archived here.

Work groups

The National Conversation convened six work groups to research and make recommendations on the following public health and chemical exposure topics:

  • Monitoring
  • Scientific Understanding
  • Policies and Practices
  • Chemical Emergencies
  • Serving Communities 
  • Education and Communication

Each group’s membership, charge, and meeting summaries are available by visiting the National Conversation website. Each work group included one or more members from the following categories:

  • Community and/or environmental justice
  • Federal government Tribal health and/or environment
  • State government Local government
  • Health care Industry and small business
  • Public health and/or environmental NGOs
  • Researchers, educators, and/or students

Nominations for work groups were accepted for a 1-month period during Summer 2009. via a publicly accessible website. More on the selection process for work group members can be found here.

RESOLVE facilitated the work group process. Work groups held approximately 10 meetings (largely by teleconference) over a year. Each work group was chaired by a nationally recognized public health leader who also sat on the Leadership Council. The chair and work group members were supported by 1) a CDC/ATSDR Senior Liaison who was a subject matter expert, and 2) a CDC/ATSDR National Conversation staff member.

Each work group produced a report with approximately 12 recommendations per group. Work group deliberations and reports were informed by several National Conversation information sources that included: web dialogues; reports from NACCHO and ASTHO documenting the views of local and state environmental public health officials, respectively; public comments; and feedback from the Leadership Council. Draft work group reports were posted on RESOLVE’s website for a 3-week public comment period. These draft reports and the comments that were submitted are available on RESOLVE’s website.

Web dialogues

WestEd, CDC/ATSDR, and RESOLVE hosted two web dialogues at key points in the process to engage a broad range of stakeholders from across the United States. The first web dialogue, held April 5-7, 2010, focused on the vision and process for the National Conversation and major issues for consideration. This dialogue included more than 300 registrants from 40 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The second web dialogue, held January 5-6, 2011, focused on refining the Leadership Council’s draft Action Agenda and included more than 500 registrants from 48 states and the District of Columbia. WestEd summarized the results of each web dialogue, and work groups used the results of the first dialogue to identify common concerns and major issues for consideration in their reports. However, the Leadership Council had primary responsibility for considering and using the input from both web dialogues. The full discussion and summary highlights of both web dialogues are available on the web dialogue #1 and web dialogue #2 websites.

Community conversations

CDC/ATSDR and APHA created a Community Conversation Toolkit (in English and Spanish) to help community leaders conduct local conversations and gather community-based ideas related to public health and chemical exposures. More than 1,000 persons participated in more than 50 community conversations in 24 states from April through June 2010. With support from CDC/ATSDR, NEHA provided mini-grants to offset the costs of convening 24 community conversations. Community conversation conveners submitted summaries of each discussion, and CDC/ATSDR staff produced a synthesis of the major themes from the community conversations. The Leadership Council used the results from the community conversations to develop the Action Agenda.

Listening sessions for environmental public health officials

Recognizing the key roles that state and local environmental and health officials play in protecting the public from harmful chemical exposures, CDC/ATSDR supported ASTHO and NACCHO in gathering their input. ASTHO hosted a forum in Spring 2010 and also conducted a needs assessment to identify the concerns and priorities of state health and environmental personnel. Also in Spring 2010, NACCHO held two forums to gain local public health officials' input on key project issues. Work groups and the Leadership Council reviewed the ASTHO and NACCHO reports and used them to inform their reports and the Action Agenda, respectively.

Social media and e-mail communications

The National Conversation project used Facebook and Twitter to engage with interested members of the public. The project also sent e-mails approximately every 4-6 weeks to persons who signed up to receive updates.

Members of the Public

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Action Agenda
Recommendations by sector

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