CDC's Environmental Health Tracking System: New (But Slow) Resource for Journalists

Published on
July 7, 2009

The CDC today launched a Web-based environmental public health tracking network that could be a fantastic resource for journalists looking for stories in their state or county.

I say "could be" because right now, the system is frustratingly slow to use, even with a decent Internet connection.

Still, the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network has some intriguing data on the health and environmental conditions that drive public health debate and policymaking. From the CDC's press release:

"The web-based tool unites vital environmental information from across the country, including air and water pollutants and information for some chronic conditions, including asthma, cancer, childhood lead poisoning and heart disease into one resource."

The CDC also supports local tracking systems in 16 states and New York City, which also may prove valuable to journalists. You can find links to the local systems here.

I took a test-spin around the online system, querying for data on lead levels in children under three years in California. The latest statistics are from 2004, presented in a state map or table format.

Each format has its merits. A quick glance at the map showed that three rural counties in the center of the state had a relatively high percentage of children with elevated lead levels, and scrolling over each county gives you a pop-up window with the exact percentage.

The county-by-county table shows a range of percentages from zero to 3.38 percent (in Tulare County). If I covered health issues anywhere in central California, I might zip out to Tulare County to find out what's going on. Do they have a bigger problem with lead than other counties, or is the county's public health department better at finding and testing at-risk children?

Later this week, I'll be interviewing a CDC epidemiologist about how journalists can use the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network for stories. In the meantime, poke around in the network, check out this YouTube video about it, and share your thoughts in the comments below.