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Report of the Tracking Network Workgroups Download as PDF [199 Kb]

Executive Summary

Accessing, analyzing, and acting on health and health-related data are fundamental to the practice of public health. Yet, the public health system as it relates to environmental public health often does not have access to health data. In January 2001, The Pew Environmental Health Commission addressed the environmental public health capacity of the United States in its report, America's Environmental Health Gap: Why the Country Needs a Nationwide Health Tracking Network. The report described a lack of basic information with which to document possible links between environmental toxins and chronic and other diseases. The Pew report presented a compelling way to address this gap: integrate tracking systems for chronic and other diseases,
environmental exposures, and environmental hazards; link and analyze data from these systems; and implement disease prevention strategies and applied research.

In August 2001, following up on the Pew report, CDC and ATSDR developed a document entitled CDC and ATSDR's Proposed Plan for an Environmental Public Health Tracking Network. The plan described methods to 1) develop and implement an integrated tracking system, 2) strengthen the environmental public health workforce at the state and local levels, and 3) improve collaboration among agencies and organizations that have environmental public health and environmental protection responsibilities.

To develop practical recommendations for implementing an environmental health tracking network as envisioned in CDC and ATSDR's Proposed Plan for an Environmental Public Health Tracking Network, NCEH, the lead CDC organization for the tracking program, identified senior scientists, managers, and policy specialists from 27 agencies and organizations to serve on workgroups to address tracking issues. Workgroups provided input without regard to current and future budget projections of CDC and ATSDR and partners, while recognizing that the pace by which recommendations can be addressed is influenced by dollar and staff resources.

NCEH sponsored four workgroup meetings: an orientation meeting for workgroup members in October 2001 and three 2-day workgroup meetings in December 2001 and January and March 2002. The workgroups addressed the following areas:

  • Workgroup 1: Organization and management to define roles and promote collaboration between state and local public health and environmental agencies and among CDC and ATSDR, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other partners; and to identify state and local capacity needed to implement the tracking network
  • Workgroup 2: Data technology and tracking methodology to identify relevant national data standards; to establish system specifications; and to describe potential prototypes or models for automating, linking, and analyzing hazard, exposure, and health outcome data
  • Workgroup 3: Tracking system inventory and needs assessment to identify and describe existing tracking systems at the national, state, and local levels; to determine priorities for integrating existing tracking systems; and to identify and prioritize the development of new systems
  • Workgroup 4: Translation, policy, and public health action to define state, local, and federal actions that can ensure rapid and effective responses to data and other information generated by the environmental public health tracking network (e.g., implementing disease prevention strategies and initiating prevention research)

The tracking workgroup process identified numerous practical and valuable recommendations. The process brought diverse disciplines to the table and resulted in the development of new and redefined professional relationships among professionals representing many tracking-related disciplines. The creativity harnessed by this process will accelerate progress toward full and effective implementation of the tracking program as envisioned by the Pew Environmental Health Commission, CDC and ATSDR, and their partners.

Implementing an environmental public health tracking program is a high priority for CDC and ATSDR and their partners because it provides a strategic opportunity to address some of the most challenging public health problems facing local, state, and national public health and environmental leaders. Its successful implementation will provide information about the possible relations between environmental exposures and chronic and other diseases that can lead to interventions to reduce the burden of these illnesses. CDC and ATSDR and their partners have a unique and historic opportunity to implement a program that will monitor and safeguard the health of all people living in the United States.

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