OEHHA Program Descriptions

Executive Office

The Executive Office provides the direction and leadership necessary to plan, develop and administer programs and activities in OEHHA. Other functions provided by the executive office include legal support to various programs, legislative analysis and liaison, communication and public information, and administrative functions relating to OEHHA’s Proposition 65 activities.

Administrative Services Division

The Administrative Services Division carries out the various administrative tasks necessary to support the Office, including contracts and business services, human resources, fiscal services, and information technology.

Division of Scientific Programs

The Air and Site Assessment and Climate Indicators Branch (ASACIB) has wide-ranging responsibilities that include assessing the health effects of toxic air contaminants and other airborne contaminants; conducting innovative research tracking the impacts of climate change on California’s biota and physical systems; assisting state and local agencies in the review of hazards and ecological risks posed by contaminated sites; and implementing CalEPA’s Children’s Environmental Health Program.

Specific program activities within ASACIB

Air Toxics “Hot Spots” Program

  • Develop health guidance values for air contaminants (e.g., unit risk factors for carcinogens and Reference Exposure Levels (RELs) for non-carcinogens).
  • Develop guidance for use by industry on preparing health risk assessments for major facilities.
  • Provide advice and assistance on health-related air toxics issues to the Air Resources Board, air quality management/pollution control districts, local health officers, and environmental health officers.

Climate Change Indicators Program

  • Develop a set of indicators that track climate change and its impacts on California’s weather, water and other physical systems, ecosystems, agriculture and public health.
  • Prepare periodic reports on the information generated by the climate change indicators that CalEPA programs and other state and local agencies can use in decision-making for mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Contaminated Site Risk Assessment

  • Provide consultation services to California’s Regional Water Quality Control Boards and local governments on health risks from exposure to toxic materials at contaminated sites undergoing cleanup.
  • Develop guidance as needed relating to the assessment of risks posed by contamination at school sites and toxicity values to be used for such assessments.

Children’s Environmental Health Protection

  • Implement the CalEPA Children’s Environmental Health Program, by serving as the chief advisor on children’s environmental health issues to the CalEPA Secretary.
  • Organize annual symposia on the health effects of environmental pollution on children, conduct outreach to medical professionals on children’s environmental health; and provide consultation and advice on this issue to other CalEPA boards and departments, and other agencies.

Environmental Research

  • Conduct research and provide consultation and guidance on exposures to toxins from harmful algal blooms in surface water, and other emerging environmental issues.
  • Maintain and update a list of arts and craft materials that should not be used in schools by children from Kindergarten to 6th grade.

The Community and Environmental Epidemiology Research Branch (CEERB) has responsibilities that include assessing the health effects of criteria air pollutants through epidemiological studies; conducting innovative research of public-health issues related to climate change and the state’s response to it; identifying California communities with the highest burdens and vulnerabilities to pollution; developing methods to evaluate the adequacy of drinking water provided to communities; exposures and effects from  chemicals from petroleum-related operations; and supporting emergency response efforts related to hazardous chemicals.

Specific program activities within CEERB

Environmental Justice

  • Develop and update the CalEnviroScreen tool to identify California communities highly burdened by multiple sources of pollution and vulnerable to their adverse effects.
  • Develop a framework and tool to evaluate California’s progress in achieving the human right to water by characterizing communities’ drinking water quality, accessibility and affordability.
  • Assess potential impacts of the state’s climate regulatory programs on disadvantaged communities.

Criteria Air Pollutants

  • Conduct epidemiological studies on the health effects of exposure to criteria air pollutants for the general population and sensitive subgroups.
  • Develop health-based recommendations for Ambient Air Quality Standards for criteria air pollutants.

Oil and Gas Operations

  • Assess the potential impacts of chemicals released via oil and gas production and well stimulation.

Human Health Impacts of Climate Change

  • Conduct epidemiological studies on mortality and morbidity of heat exposure in California,
  • Conduct studies on interactions of environmental pollutants, such as airborne particulate matter and ozone, with heat and their combined impacts on vulnerable populations.

Emergency Response

  • Provide emergency personnel and local public health officials with information on the health effects of chemical agents to characterize risks to the public and environment from accidental chemical releases.

The Pesticide and Environmental Toxicology Branch (PETB) is composed of five sections performing various activities pertaining to different aspects of pesticide toxicity and epidemiology, drinking water contaminants, contaminants in fish and shellfish, and the potential health effects of synthetic turf.

Specific program activities within PETB

Pesticide Risk Assessment

  • Performing statutorily mandated peer reviews of pesticide Risk Characterization Documents (RCDs) and Exposure Assessment Documents (EADs) prepared by the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR).
  • Evaluating pesticide toxicity data for use in DPR’s regulatory decisions. 
  • Preparing documents on the toxicity of and exposure to pesticides used by the invasive species program of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).
  • Communicating toxicity and exposure information of the pesticides and chemicals used in the CDFA invasive species program to the public.

Pesticide Epidemiology Program

  • Tracking and maintaining records of pesticide-related illnesses among California workers and the public.
  • Preparing and updating Guidelines for Physicians who Supervise Workers Exposed to Cholinesterase-Inhibiting Pesticides, which describes the statewide program to monitor the health of pesticide handlers and the responsibilities of physicians in the Medical Supervision Program.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the Medical Supervision Program by analyzing pesticide handlers’ blood-cholinesterase test results. 
  • Providing education to physicians and other health care providers on
    • The Recognition, Management, and Reporting of Pesticide Illness
    • The California Medical Supervision Program.
  • Working mutually with DPR to develop regulations to protect agricultural workers who handle or come into contact with pesticides.
  • Providing assistance to local health officers in the event of pesticide poisonings.

Public Health Goal Program

  • Performing human health risk assessments and toxicity evaluations for the development of Public Health Goals (PHGs) and notification levels for chemical contaminants in drinking water.  The State Water Resources Control Board uses OEHHA’s PHGs to develop California’s regulatory drinking-water standards.   

Fish, Ecotoxicology, and Ambient Water Program

  • Evaluating chemical contaminants in fish and wildlife, and developing fish consumption advisories, which are published in the California Sport Fish Regulations handbook and are posted on OEHHA’s website. 
  • Making recommendations to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) on the closure and reopening of fisheries following oil spills in state waters.   
  • Working with the California Department of Public Health and CDFW to determine fishery closures and re-openings due to marine toxins.

Special Investigations

  • Studying the potential human health hazards posed by chemicals released from recycled tire material in synthetic turf and playground mats.

The Reproductive and Cancer Hazard Assessment Branch (RCHAB) has responsibilities that include conducting the scientific activities associated with OEHHA’s role as the lead agency for the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Proposition 65); operating the California Environmental Contaminant Biomonitoring Program (Biomonitoring California) in collaboration with the California Department of Public Health and the Department of Toxic Substances Control; and conducting exposure and health risk analyses for reproductive and developmental toxicants and carcinogens.

Specific program activities within RCHAB

Proposition 65 Scientific Activities

  • Maintaining and updating the Proposition 65 list of chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive toxicity, including:
    • Compiling and evaluating scientific information on the possible carcinogenicity or reproductive toxicity of chemicals that are candidates for listing under Proposition 65.
    • Evaluating whether authoritative federal and international entities have made formal identifications of carcinogens and reproductive toxicants that meet the criteria for listing under Proposition 65.
  • Developing “safe harbor levels” that provide guidance for businesses and the public regarding when warnings are required for exposures to listed carcinogens (No Significant Risk Levels, NSRLs) and reproductive toxicants (Maximum Allowable Dose Levels, MADLs).
  • Providing additional scientific support and compliance assistance for Proposition 65, including developing interpretive guidance for the public on technical issues involving Proposition 65, and evaluating requests for and developing Safe Use Determinations that provide businesses with guidance for when warnings are required for specific exposures to listed chemicals.
  • Developing fact sheets and related information for the general public on chemicals listed under Proposition 65, including information on sources of exposure to those chemicals, and ways to reduce exposures.

Biomonitoring Program

  • Implementing OEHHA’s scientific activities under Biomonitoring California, which involve:
    • Developing hazard evaluation documents to support selection of chemicals for biomonitoring.
    • Translating complex toxicological information into plain-English materials, such as chemical fact sheets, for individual participants in biomonitoring studies.
    • Developing materials to aid in interpreting biomonitoring results.
    • Providing scientific and administrative support to the program’s Scientific Guidance Panel. 
  • Managing the Biomonitoring California website, including developing chemical-specific content and maintaining the biomonitoring results database.