CDC Launches National Public Health Tracking Program

August 26, 2009

A new Environmental Public Health Tracking Program promises to become a key data tool for environmental reporters in coming years. Obstacles remain.

The mere fact of the program's launch at the Centers for Disease Control is a victory of sorts for a program struggling to be born since before the early days of the Bush administration. The Pew Environmental Health Commission led calls in 2001 to integrate data about pollution exposures with data about pollution-related health damage. Congress funded start-up efforts by 2002, and enacted authorizing legislation in 2004.

The National Environmental Public Health Tracking Program is a joint effort of CDC, EPA, USGS, the National Cancer Institute, NASA, and other agencies. They are working with non-profits and academic institutions. Much of the data comes from states and local governments.

The program is still scaling up. It tracks non-infectious conditions like asthma, cancer, carbon monoxide poisoning, childhood lead poisoning, and heart attacks. But not others, like neurological, endocrine, and reproductive disorders, that have been tied to environmental causes. Initially, the program pulls data from just a handful of CDC-funded states: CA, CT, FL, ME, MD, MA, MO, NH, NJ, NY, OR, PA, UT, WA, and WI.

The watchdog group OMB Watch noted in an article that the site does not allow download of raw data, nor does it offer maps that layer pollution information over health information.