Publication Details

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) [42 U.S.C. 9601 et seq.], as amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) [Pub. L. 99– 499], requires that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) develop jointly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in order of priority, a list of hazardous substances most commonly found at facilities on the CERCLA National Priorities List (NPL); prepare toxicological profiles for each substance included on the priority list of hazardous substances; and assure the initiation of a research program to fill identified data needs associated with the substances.

The toxicological profiles include an examination, summary, and interpretation of available toxicological information and epidemiologic evaluations of a hazardous substance. During the development of toxicological profiles, Minimal Risk Levels (MRLs) are derived when reliable and sufficient data exist to identify the target organ(s) of effect or the most sensitive health effect(s) for a specific duration for a given route of exposure. An MRL is an estimate of the daily human exposure to a hazardous substance that is likely to be without appreciable risk of adverse noncancer health effects over a specified duration of exposure. MRLs are based on noncancer health effects only and are not based on a consideration of cancer effects. These substance-specific estimates, which are intended to serve as screening levels, are used by ATSDR health assessors to identify contaminants and potential health effects that may be of concern at hazardous waste sites. It is important to note that MRLs are not intended to define clean-up or action levels.

MRLs are derived for hazardous substances using the no-observed-adverse-effect level/uncertainty factor approach. They are below levels that might cause adverse health effects in the people most sensitive to such chemical-induced effects. MRLs are derived for acute (1–14 days), intermediate (15–364 days), and chronic (365 days and longer) durations and for the oral and inhalation routes of exposure. Currently, MRLs for the dermal route of exposure are not derived because ATSDR has not yet identified a method suitable for this route of exposure. MRLs are generally based on the most sensitive chemical-induced end point considered to be of relevance to humans. Serious health effects (such as irreparable damage to the liver or kidneys, or birth defects) are not used as a basis for establishing MRLs. Exposure to a level above the MRL does not mean that adverse health effects will occur.

MRLs are intended only to serve as a screening tool to help public health professionals decide where to look more closely. They may also be viewed as a mechanism to identify those hazardous waste sites that are not expected to cause adverse health effects. Most MRLs contain a degree of uncertainty because of the lack of precise toxicological information on the people who might be most sensitive (e.g., infants, elderly, nutritionally or immunologically compromised) to the effects of hazardous substances. ATSDR uses a conservative (i.e., protective) approach to address this uncertainty consistent with the public health principle of prevention. Although human data are preferred, MRLs often must be based on animal studies because relevant human studies are lacking. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, ATSDR assumes that humans are more sensitive to the effects of hazardous substance than animals and that certain persons may be particularly sensitive. Thus, the resulting MRL may be as much as 100-fold below levels that have been shown to be nontoxic in laboratory animals.

Proposed MRLs undergo a rigorous review process: Health Effects/MRL Workgroup reviews within the Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences (proposed), expert panel peer reviews, and agency-wide MRL Workgroup reviews, with participation from other federal agencies and comments from the public. They are subject to change as new information becomes available concomitant with updating the toxicological profiles. Thus, MRLs in the most recent toxicological profiles supersede previously published levels. For additional information regarding MRLs, please contact the Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences (proposed), Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 1600 Clifton Road NE, Mailstop F-62, Atlanta, Georgia 30333.

MRLs were not derived for carbon monoxide, as discussed in Section 2.3.