Vermont's Success

Protecting Vermont Residents from Harmful Algal Blooms

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Harmful Blue-green Algae Affect Vermont Lakes

Blue-green algae are found in ponds and lakes throughout Vermont. During the warm days of summer and early fall, blue-green algae can multiply rapidly to form blooms and produce toxins that can kill fish, mammals, and birds. Blue-green algae blooms may look like thick pea soup or green paint floating in the water. In 1999 and 2000, two dogs died after drinking water from the shore of Lake Champlain when a bloom was present. These toxins can make people sick, too.

Tracking Program Develops Innovative Monitoring System

The Vermont Environmental Public Health Tracking Programexternal icon, in partnership with the CDC Climate and Health Program, developed a Web-based blue-green algae portal to provide up-to-date information on blue-green algae conditions. Data are collected by a network of more than 100 volunteers trained by a local conservation group. Following approval by a site moderator, data are added to the Vermont Health Department’s blue-green algae Web map. Reports are assigned to one of three alert categories based on the conditions observed by volunteers. Before the Web-based monitoring system was put into place, it took staff up to a week to publish the data. Algal blooms can appear or disappear very quickly, making week-old data of little use for someone planning a weekend trip to the lake. Now the public can see algae conditions at more than 60 different locations shortly after the volunteers submit their reports.

Crowd-Sourced Data Help Protect Residents and Raise Awareness

Health officials have used information from the Tracking Program’s blue-green algae portalexternal icon to inform community advisories about harmful blooms occurring in Lake Champlain and four other inland lakes. An added benefit to using crowd-sourced data is that it creates a core group of community members who know how to identify harmful algal blooms. People who visit the health department’s website can learn how to identify blooms and what steps to take to protect their pets and themselves from exposure. According to David Grass, PhD, who directs Vermont’s Tracking Program, “This system is as much an educational tool as it is a surveillance tool.”


Using Crowd-Sourced Data to Track Ticks

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More Tick Data Needed in Vermont

Vermont has one of the highest rates of Lyme disease in the country. Lyme disease is transmitted by bites from infected ticks. Being able to track where ticks are living is one way to monitor how their range may be changing. Vermont’s tick surveillance activities involve sampling only a few locations a few times per year. As a result, data about the locations and timing of high tick activity are limited. This makes it difficult for public health workers to identify areas where people might be at high risk for Lyme disease or other tick-borne diseases.

Tracking Program Uses Crowd-Sourced Data to Monitor Risk

To help improve tick monitoring, the Vermont Tracking Programexternal icon, in partnership with CDC’s Climate and Health Program, developed a “crowd-sourced” web application called the Tick Tracker. The Tick Tracker can be usedexternal icon by anyone to record tick sightings anywhere in the state and submit reports to the health department. In as little as a minute, they can add the sightings to an online map of Vermont. The map shows where people may need to take extra steps to prevent tick bites when spending time outdoors. Along with the map, the site has links to information about tick-borne diseases and preventing tick bites.

Tick Tracker Engages the Public in Tick Surveillance

The Tick Tracker gives members of the community an opportunity to get involved by identifying tick hot spots and sharing this information with others to help them make informed decisions about protecting themselves from tick bites. According to Erica Berl, Infectious Disease Epidemiologist at the Vermont Department of Health, the Tick Tracker has been an important new tool in helping educate Vermonters about tick-borne diseases. “The Tick Tracker was released at the end of August in 2013. By the end of the fall, there were thousands of visits to the page and more than 250 location-specific tick reports. Using crowd-sourced data will help us to improve our efforts to reduce Lyme disease.”


Understanding the geography of asthma

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What is the problem?

Asthma affects about 11% of adults and 10% of children in Vermont. Some areas of the state have higher rates of hospital stays and emergency room visits due to asthma, but the reasons remain unknown. Rutland County has the highest hospital stays rate of all Vermont counties. The Department of Environmental Conservation’s air monitoring data show that this county also has the most days per year of air pollution from fine particulate matter.

What did Tracking do?

Differences in hospitalization rates between geographic areas may result from local population characteristics. They also may be caused by local environmental exposures to fine particulate matter and ozone pollution or mold and allergens in older housing. The Vermont Tracking Program will partner with the department of health’s CDC-funded Asthma Program to use tracking data to identify trends and patterns in asthma hospitalizations and emergency department visits. Better understanding of asthma triggers could lead to better ways to prevent asthma.

Improved public health

The Vermont Tracking Program plans to use this information to determine the most appropriate public health actions. These actions will lead to fewer hospitalizations and emergency department visits due to asthma.


Tracking fluoride in drinking water

Boy brushing teeth using tap water

What is the problem?

In Vermont, most people use drinking water from public systems that contain fluoride. Fluoride also occurs naturally in some areas of the state at levels below, equal to or higher than the safe levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Studies have consistently shown that water with fluoride helps to prevent tooth decay. However, some communities question the need for fluoride in their water systems.

What did Tracking do?

The Vermont Tracking Program will study insurance claims made for dental cavities, and compare those claims in towns served by public water systems with fluoride and towns with systems that do not have fluoride in the water. Data from private drinking wells will also be considered.

Improved public health

The Vermont Tracking Program plans to use the results of this project to make recommendations to local water systems about using fluoride in public drinking water systems.


Improving cross-border public health investigations

Nuclear power plant

What is the problem?

The New England states occupy a small area, and complex environmental issues and public health events often cross borders. One example of this is the tritium contaminated groundwater at Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station, which borders Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Coordination and data-sharing among public health, environmental, agriculture and emergency management agencies in-state and with bordering states was required to analyze risk and monitor the investigation and remediation.

What did Tracking do?

Sharing data across borders will help Vermont and neighboring states better analyze, interpret, and respond to public health hazards.

Improved public health

The Vermont Tracking Program will make data sharing easier both within the state and with neighboring states. It will also improve response time to public inquiries and help public health professionals use the best resources for public health actions.


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Page last reviewed: March 9, 2018