Environmental Public Health Tracking Program

Table of Contents


New York's Environmental Public Health Tracking Program (EPHT) focuses on building better environmental and health information systems. By collecting and examining environmental and health information on an ongoing basis, tracking (or surveillance) helps us understand how hazards in the environment, exposures to these hazards, and diseases change over time or across regions. Tracking might also help answer questions about the complex relationship between the environment and health.

The New York State Department of Health, 17 other states and New York City are part of the national Environmental Public Health Tracking Network, an effort led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This network was developed to provide nationally consistent environmental and health data. These data can be used to support research, programs and policies that help protect our communities.

One-Stop-Shopping for Data

The Environmental Public Health Tracker

New York State launched its Environmental Public Health Tracker where anyone with Web access can view select environmental health data, maps and charts. Here users can also learn more about environmental and health topics, view data for New York State, or link to national data on the Center for Disease Control's Environmental Public Health Tracking Network.

Information System for State Health Researchers

The New York State Health Department's Center for Environmental Health built a secure, information system to warehouse environmental and health data. This system helps our staff share data, identify unusual patterns and trends and respond to environmental health issues and concerns.

Information System for Local Health Departments

New York is building an environmental health information system for local health departments and others wanting secure access environmental and health data. This system will provide data, mapping and discovery capabilities to track trends, promote research and help other efforts to protect New York State communities. Users will access this system through the state's Health Commerce Network.

Research on the Connections Between Health and the Environment

New York State has several projects that focus on combining environmental, health and other data to explore possible relationships between environmental hazards and health effects. These projects test our ability to combine health and environmental data and to look for unusual geographic patterns, clusters, or trends over time. Some of these help address an important State Health Department goal: enhancing our capabilities to track the health effects of environmental exposures on children.

Asthma and Air Quality

This project explores possible relationships and trends in levels of air pollutants and asthma hospitalizations in children. Studies consider seasonal patterns, meteorological conditions, population density, lag time between exposure and effect, and other factors. One investigation found that chronic exposure to outdoor ozone might increase the risk of asthma admissions among children, with younger children and those in families with lower household incomes at greater risk. Another study of short-term ozone exposure among children found relationships between respiratory hospital admissions and outdoor ozone levels in several areas of the state. An ongoing study is evaluating whether regulation of nitric oxide emissions (a key ingredient of ozone) has had an effect on respiratory and cardiovascular hospitalizations.

Asthma and the School Environment

This project explores possible relationships between indoor air conditions in schools and the respiratory health of school age children. Asthma hospitalization and emergency room visit data from the New York Statewide Planning and Research Cooperative System (SPARCS) is used to monitor childhood respiratory health over time. Data from the New York State Education Department's Building Condition Survey is used to periodically assess the indoor air quality of New York State schools. An ongoing series of studies link these two data sets to explore possible relationships between school district asthma hospitalization rates and school building conditions and to report findings to people who could use this information, such as school superintendents, facility managers, school nurses, and asthma coalitions. This project has helped expand the questions on the New State Building Conditions Survey to collect data about indoor air quality problems such as mold, moisture, vermin, and ventilation problems.

Air Quality and Birth Outcomes

This project explores possible relationships between air pollution and reproductive outcomes. It is conducted with the University at Albany School of Public Health. In one investigation, birth weight and prematurity among babies born in New York State between 1995 and 2001 are examined in relation to levels of ozone and particulate matter of less than 10 microns. Study methods consider other maternal factors that are associated with low birth weight or prematurity, such as early prenatal care. Another investigation focusing on birth defects combines data from the New York State Congenital Malformations Registry and the New York State Center for Birth Defects Research to explore the relationship between air pollution and selected birth defects.

Drinking Water and Birth Outcomes

This project explores the relationship between birth outcomes, including birth defects, low birth weight, and prematurity, and levels of contaminants called disinfection by-products in public drinking water supplies. Levels of disinfection by-products are measured in public water supplies on a regular basis to make sure they comply with state and federal standards. The levels vary depending on characteristics of the source of the water, treatment process and time of year. The project links the levels of these contaminants to birth outcomes based on public water supply of the mother's residence and time of pregnancy to assess their possible relationship. Other factors that may be associated with these birth outcomes, such mother's age, race, educational level and level of prenatal care are also taken into account. Data on birth weight, prematurity, and birth defects were obtained from the New York State Department of Health Vital Statistics office and the Congenital Malformations Registry.

Evaluation of Air Quality Characterizations – Public Health Air Surveillance Evaluation (PHASE)

PHASE was one of the first Environmental Public Health Tracking multistate tracking trials. The New York State Health Department worked with Maine, Wisconsin, the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to evaluate approaches for estimating exposures to outdoor levels of ozone and fine particulate matter, particularly in areas where there are currently no air quality monitors. Air pollutant estimates were also linked with hospitalization data for asthma and heart attacks. As a result of this project EPA now provides air quality estimates to state health departments not only for the areas where air monitors are located but also for areas where there are no monitors. EPA uses a combination of emissions data, meteorological information such as wind speed and direction along with environmental emissions data to produce air quality estimates for ozone and fine particulate matter. The New York State Department of Health also produced a software tool call C-CAT for measuring the possible relationships between the short-term effects of air pollution and health. This tool is currently used by a number of state health departments and universities. Results of some of these analyses will be published in scientific journals over the next few years.

Our Tracking Partners

Tracking is a partnership program. It is designed to put data and tools in the hands of people who help protect New York communities. Tracking partners include scientists, information technology specialists, environmental scientists, statisticians, policy makers, educators, healthcare experts, state and local government officials, advocates, academia and members of the public who use data to better understand the complex relationship between the environment and human health.

Tracking also brings together federal and state agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States Environmental Protection Agency, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and other state health and environmental agencies to focus on common goals and share data, technical guidance, and assistance. These partnerships are key to meeting today's and tomorrow's environmental health challenges.

Where Can I Get More Information?