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Missouri Launches Environmental Public Health Resource

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has launched its Environmental Public Health Tracking Network Portal, a powerful new tool that Missourians can use to protect themselves from environmental hazards statewide.

The portal is a cutting-edge public health resource and part of a national initiative to close gaps in what we know about how environmental hazards affect public health.

Designed as a web-based system, the portal tracks key environmental hazards and health problems across Missouri then displays that information in ways that people can use to limit their exposure to environmental hazards. Because key elements of the system are open for public use, the portal will help to improve Missourians’ understanding of government actions to reduce or prevent some illnesses, such as lead poisoning or asthma.

“We truly are excited to launch this unique and powerful tool and are confident it will help us in our mission to protect the health and well-being of everyone in Missouri,” said Margaret Donnelly, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services. “We hope that in developing a tool that the public can use, we can foster a better understanding of the importance of public health in everyone’s life.”

Donnelly said the portal will allow Missouri residents to obtain critical environmental health information that will help them make informed decisions and take action to protect themselves and their families. The portal currently provides:

* Rates of blood lead levels in children less than six years of age by county, zip code, calendar year, or blood-lead test results;

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* Rates of carbon monoxide illnesses by county, zip code, calendar year, or test result;

* Interactive maps showing environmental health conditions such as childhood lead poisoning and carbon monoxide illnesses. The maps allow users to ask questions and receive information about specific locations on the map.

Missouri is one of 16 states to receive funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to build state tracking network portals. The funding also allows the state to conduct pilot projects that analyze the health effects of environmental hazards. The goal is to improve what we know about the environment’s effect on public health.

“The tracking portal will be home to the most recent, accurate environmental public health data available, which allows us to maintain a higher level of awareness of environmental issues across the state,” Donnelly said. “Because of its Web-based platform, we can share information simultaneously with our partners, which will help reduce the time it takes local and state public health officials to respond to emerging environmental health hazards or developing disease trends.”

Results from Missouri’s pilot projects demonstrate the benefits of environmental public health tracking. For example, 95 percent of homes in the city of St. Louis were built prior to 1978, when lead was banned from paint. Consequently, the demolition of these older homes for new construction raised the concern of environmental lead contamination and increased exposure for children living near demolition sites.

In response, Missouri’s environmental health tracking staff worked with St. Louis city officials to study blood lead levels of children living near these demolition sites. The tracking study showed that children living near multiple demolition sites were at an increased risk for elevated blood-lead levels. Based on that study, the city developed new safety procedures for demolition projects involving old homes and buildings. The tracking study has been instrumental in reducing the number of St. Louis children affected by environmental lead exposure.

Nationally, the CDC recently announced the launch of its National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network Portal at the federal agency’s “Future of Environmental Health” conference. CDC’s Tracking Network Portal makes available a national body of environment and health information for the first time. It monitors and reports national environmental health trends about air and water quality, and health conditions such as asthma, cancers and birth defects.