California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment

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California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment
California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment logo.svg
Logo of OEHHA
Agency overview
Headquarters1001 I Street
Sacramento, California
United States
Employees120 staff
Annual budget$17.5 mil total; $8.3 mil general fund
Agency executive
  • Lauren Zeise, PhD, Director
Parent agency California Environmental Protection Agency

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, commonly referred to as OEHHA (pronounced oh-EEE-ha), is a specialized department within the cabinet-level California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) with responsibility for evaluating health risks from environmental chemical contaminants.

California Environmental Protection Agency

The California Environmental Protection Agency, or CalEPA, is a state cabinet-level agency within the government of California. The mission of CalEPA is to restore, protect and enhance the environment, to ensure public health, environmental quality and economic vitality.


OEHHA is the scientific adviser within CalEPA and provides the health effects assessments that assist regulatory decision makers within CalEPA, the California Department of Public Health, and other agencies and non-governmental organizations (see below). This includes assessing health and environmental risks from:

California Department of Public Health

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is the state department responsible for public health in California. It is a subdivision of the California Health and Human Services Agency. One of its functions is to oversee vital records operations throughout the state. As of July 2019, the department is led by Acting Director Susan Fanelli, who also serves as Chief Deputy Director of Policy & Programs. Charity Dean, MD, MPH is the Acting State Public Health Officer and also serves as the Assistant Director. On September 13, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Sonia Angell, MD, MPH as the CDPH Director.

A carcinogen is any substance, radionuclide, or radiation that promotes carcinogenesis, the formation of cancer. This may be due to the ability to damage the genome or to the disruption of cellular metabolic processes. Several radioactive substances are considered carcinogens, but their carcinogenic activity is attributed to the radiation, for example gamma rays and alpha particles, which they emit. Common examples of non-radioactive carcinogens are inhaled asbestos, certain dioxins, and tobacco smoke. Although the public generally associates carcinogenicity with synthetic chemicals, it is equally likely to arise in both natural and synthetic substances. Carcinogens are not necessarily immediately toxic; thus, their effect can be insidious.

Reproductive toxicity hazard associated with some chemical substances

Reproductive toxicity is a hazard associated with some chemical substances, which interfere in some way with normal reproduction; such substances are called reprotoxic. They may adversely affect sexual function and fertility in adult males and females, as well as causing developmental toxicity in the offspring. Reproductive toxicity is usually defined practically, to include several different effects which are unrelated to each other except in their outcome of lowered effective fertility. The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) separates reproductive toxicity from germ cell mutagenicity and carcinogenicity, even though both these hazards may also affect fertility.

Air pollution introduction of particulates, biological molecules, or other harmful materials into the Earths atmosphere

Air pollution occurs when harmful or excessive quantities of substances including gases, particles, and biological molecules are introduced into Earth's atmosphere. It may cause diseases, allergies and even death to humans; it may also cause harm to other living organisms such as animals and food crops, and may damage the natural or built environment. Both human activity and natural processes can generate air pollution.

In the news

In May 2009, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed to "eliminate and transfer the functions" of OEHHA (and other agencies) as part his May Revise for the 2009–2010 budget. [1] Details about the transfer of functions including mandates, funding, staff resources, and new head agency are limited. Elimination of OEHHA will have a very minor impact on the budget problems because of several reasons: (1) OEHHA's budget is very small (1/500th of 1% of the General Fund, or 1/50,000th) compared to the state deficit; $8.3 million of OEHHA's budget is general fund (2) about half of OEHHA's budget is funded by special funds (e.g. Proposition 65, Biomonitoring) (3) state mandates that transfer to other agencies or departments will still require funding.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Austrian-American actor, businessman, bodybuilder and politician

Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger is an Austrian-American politician, actor, filmmaker, businessman, author, and former professional bodybuilder. He served as the 38th Governor of California from 2003 to 2011.

By an executive order from the Governor in February 2009, all state workers are on a two-day-a-month furlough, or two days off without pay, equivalent to a 10% pay cut. On May 28, 2009 Governor Schwarzenegger proposed an additional 5% pay cut for all state workers (without an adjustment to the number of days worked), resulting a total pay cut of 15%; this additional cut must be approved by the legislature. [2]

In the United States, a furlough is a temporary leave of employees due to special needs of a company or employer, which may be due to economic conditions at the specific employer or in the economy as a whole. These involuntary furloughs may be short or long term, and many of those affected may seek other temporary employment during that time.


Many have questioned the Governor's motivation for cutting OEHHA. Some have proposed this cut was spearheaded by industries who have been in conflict with OEHHA and several industries have been proposed as "suspects." [3] [4] An international petition to save OEHHA, titled "Doctors and Scientists for Environmental Health", has also been circulating and has over 200 signatures from California, the U.S. and over 20 other countries worldwide.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

On June 2, 2009 articles and editorials/opinions were published in the Los Angeles Times , Sacramento Bee , California Progress Report, SFGate and others that speak to the importance of OEHHA and further explain how cutting OEHHA would not save a significant source of funding. [5] [6] [7] [8] These timely articles coincide with the California Budget Conference Committee hearings, with public testimony, that occurred on the afternoon of June 2, 2009.

Budget Conference Committee Hearing

On June 2, 2009 the Budget Conference Committee convened a hearing for public comment on the Governor's budget proposal. The hearing is archived on video, the testimony on behalf of OEHHA begins at 3:49:11 [9] The supporters of OEHHA proposed and alternative to keep OEHHA intact and save $8.3 million, OEHHA's general fund budget. The proposal includes alternative funding sources and also expands OEHHA with the addition of Department Pesticide Regulation's risk assessment activities, Department of Toxic Substances Control's hazard evaluation functions, and lead roles in the children's health initiative and the Cal/EPA portion of the biomonitoring program. The main argument against the Governor's proposal is that the science performed in OEHHA should be independent of policy decisions made by the other boards and departments of Cal/EPA. Further, in the governor's proposal, many of OEHHA's programs would be dropped entirely (e.g. the Public Health Goals for drinking water contaminants).

Speakers in support of OEHHA included:

On June 11, 2009 the second hearing for the Budget Conference committee was convened. OEHHA's item number was 3980 on the Agenda and included the recommendation from the Senate Environmental Quality Committee (below) to keep OEHHA intact and add risk assessment and hazard evaluation functions from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. When OEHHA's item came up, Assemblymember Nielsen requested more time to review the proposal. The committee decided to postpone the discussion and action of the OEHHA item, but did not say when the committee would revisit the OEHHA budget proposal.

On June 15, 2009 the Budget Conference Committee voted 6-4 along party lines to approve funding OEHHA's entire budget with fee- and penalty-based special funds. The conference committee's plan will be considered by the full Assembly and Senate as part of the budget package. The final ruling on OEHHA will not be available until after the budget is passed by the state legislature and signed by the Governor. As of June 25, 2009, it does not appear that the Democratic budget plan will be passed. [10]

Senate Environmental Quality Committee Hearing

On June 10, 2009, The Senate Environmental Quality Committee voted to recommend that OEHHA be kept intact and expanded with the addition of California Department Pesticide Regulation's risk assessment activities, California Department of Toxic Substances Control's hazard evaluation functions, and lead roles in the children's health initiative and the Cal/EPA portion of the biomonitoring program. The recommendation will be forwarded to the Budget Conference Committee.

Public testimony and discussion on behalf of OEHHA continued for over an hour and included 16 people who spoke in favor of keeping OEHHA intact. Two others spoke in opposition to transferring Department Pesticide Regulation's risk assessment activities to OEHHA, but neither of them commented on the larger issue of OEHHA's future. The vote was 3-2. Senator Ashburn voted against the expansion recommendation but also said, "The expertise that resides in OEHHA ought not to be dissipated throughout state government as the Governor proposes."

Speakers in support of OEHHA included:

Speakers against expansion of OEHHA:

Purpose and goals

OEHHA's vision is to be California's leading scientific organization for evaluating risks to human and ecological health. OEHHA's goals as a governmental agency include:

Scientific responsibilities

OEHHA assesses the risk of environmental chemicals based on health considerations alone. In contrast, risk managers consider economic and technical feasibility as factors in their decisions. This separation is essential to prevent undue political influence on the evaluation of health risks. These factors are and should remain explicitly excluded from the assessment of risk. OEHHA plays a critical and unique role that allows for the separation of risk assessment and hazard evaluation from risk management with primary goal of protecting public health and the environment.

OEHHA's Top Ten

OEHHA' most recognizable contributions to public and environmental health are:

  1. OEHHA's groundbreaking work that showed that chromium in drinking water causes cancer; this issue was publicized in the movie Erin Brockovich .
  2. OEHHA's research was critical in passing legislation to ban toxic phthalates from children's toys in California.
  3. OEHHA was the first agency to identify second-hand tobacco smoke as a causal factor in breast cancer in young women.
  4. California's ban on two widely used toxic flame retardants was supported by OEHHA's research. The California ban led to these chemicals being phased out in the United States.
  5. In the face of strong opposition, OEHHA was the first government agency to establish that diesel exhaust causes cancer and induces asthma in children. OEHHA's work has led to stringent new controls on this widespread pollutant.
  6. OEHHA has compiled the most comprehensive list in the world of chemicals that cause cancer, infertility, birth defects (known as the Proposition 65 list). Governments throughout the world rely on this list to regulate toxic chemicals. Manufacturers of consumer products use the list to design safer consumer products.
  7. With OEHHA's ongoing support, the California Attorney General has led the way in removing lead from consumer products including venetian blinds, children's toys and jewelry, tableware, water faucets and ceramics. Other California success stories include reducing the use of toxic pesticides in flea collars and no-pest strips and removal of a cancer-causing chemical from office supplies.
  8. OEHHA maintains a list of hazardous arts and crafts supplies that contain toxic substances which pose health dangers to children. California elementary schools are prohibited from purchasing these materials. OEHHA also provides advice on the selection and use of safer art supplies.
  9. OEHHA's research contributed to the phase-out of a toxic gasoline additive (MTBE) that contaminated groundwater throughout California.
  10. California was the first state to regulate a rocket fuel component which widely contaminates drinking water and produce including lettuce. OEHHA's research provided the basis for this drinking water standard.

Traditional roles

OEHHA's work products cover a variety of environmental media. Traditionally OEHHA has focused on four primary areas:

Air pollution

  • Health-based air quality standards for pollutants associated with smog
  • Health effects assessments for toxic air contaminants.
  • List of toxic air contaminants that disproportionately impact children
  • Indoor air guidelines for green building

Water pollution

  • Fish consumption advisories including warnings for pregnant women and children
  • Health protective levels for contaminants found in drinking water

Proposition 65: Carcinogens and Reproductive Toxicants

  • Maintain Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to be carcinogens and reproductive toxicants
  • Health-based assessments of safe levels for Proposition 65 carcinogens and reproductive toxicants

Multimedia risk assessment

  • Assess human and ecological health risk from exposure to chemicals contaminating California sites or facilities
  • Multimedia evaluation of the health effects of fuels

More recently

In recent years OEHHA has taken on new mandates to address emerging environmental issues of particular concern to the California public:

Organizational structure

OEHHA has three main divisions: [11]

The Scientific Affairs division is composed of four scientific branches that correspond to the scientific duties:

Who uses OEHHA's science?

State agency users of information on issues of environmental and public health include:


OEHHA was established in its current form by Governor Pete Wilson on July 17, 1991 with the creation of Cal/EPA. [12] OEHHA originated in the 1950s for air epidemiology in the Department of Public Health and developed over time with increased public awareness of the environment. OEHHA is the smallest of the six boards, departments and offices within Cal/EPA. OEHHA has no regulatory authority but remains the risk assessment and scientific arm of Cal/EPA and provides health-protective scientific guidance for Cal/EPA. Additionally, OEHHA is the lead agency for Proposition 65 implementation, a ballot measure approved in 1986, titled The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. The highly experienced team of experts is well respected in the scientific community and has been built up over more than twenty years. The quality and depth of OEHHA's commitment to public health, the environment and sound science is illustrated by the scientific quality of the risk assessments produced.

OEHHA is headquartered in the Cal/EPA building in Sacramento and has an office in the Oakland Elihu Harris State Building. Before the state building was built, the Oakland office used to be located across from the University of California, Berkeley; OEHHA has maintained academic ties with this institution.

Employee composition

OEHHA's scientific responsibilities are fulfilled by a highly educated and trained professional staff of about 120 individuals. The staff include toxicologists, epidemiologists, biostatisticians and physicians; many have international reputations in their scientific fields. In fiscal year 2007–2008 OEHHA was budgeted for approximately $17.5 million [13] or 1/500th of 1% the state General Fund; $8 million is from the general fund.

Related Research Articles

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The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is a federal public health agency within the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The agency focuses on minimizing human health risks associated with exposure to hazardous substances. It works closely with other federal, state, and local agencies; tribal governments; local communities; and healthcare providers. Its mission is to "Serve the public through responsive public health actions to promote healthy and safe environments and prevent harmful exposures." ATSDR was created as an advisory, nonregulatory agency by the Superfund legislation and was formally organized in 1985.

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Lindane, also known as gamma-hexachlorocyclohexane (γ-HCH), gammaxene, Gammallin and sometimes incorrectly called benzene hexachloride (BHC), is an organochlorine chemical and an isomer of hexachlorocyclohexane that has been used both as an agricultural insecticide and as a pharmaceutical treatment for lice and scabies.

Proposition 65 is a California law passed by direct voter initiative in 1986 by a 63%–37% vote. Its goals are to protect drinking water sources from toxic substances that cause cancer and birth defects and to reduce or eliminate exposures to those chemicals generally, such as consumer products, by requiring warnings in advance of those exposures.

Malathion chemical compound

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