hinder environmental public health technological advances (IOM, 1988). Burke suggested that without rectifying these shortcomings the response to any disaster will be hindered.

The 2000 Pew Environmental Health Commission report reaffirmed the findings of this IOM report and further stated that the United States lacks a cohesive national strategy to identify environmental hazards, measure population exposures, and track

One way to start the process to ensure that environmental health scientists meet the needs of the practitioners and the community and provide a basis for research is to do effective surveillance.

—Thomas Burke

health conditions as they relate to the environment (Environmental Health Tracking Project, 2000). Local public health officials need this fundamental information, noted Burke. Currently, basic information on incidence and trends in health conditions related to environmental exposures is largely unavailable. Environmental health is making progress, but at the local level the translation has not happened, asserted Burke. This lack of translation exemplifies the problem in the Gulf Coast region. Burke noted that if public health doesn’t have baseline exposure data, then officials will not be able to reassure individuals that their exposures are low or that illness rates are low. He further asserted that any tracking program needs to have a rapid response capacity to assist practitioners and communities throughout the country during a disaster.

On the positive side, the field can take advantage of progress in technology and research to accomplish this. One of the first steps is to use current paradigms to have surveillance for environmental health. From these efforts, it is necessary to address fundamental understanding of the hazards, measuring and tracking the exposures, and then developing a way to track the health status of the community. One example that was implemented during Hurricane Katrina is the use of large-scale geographic information systems by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to illustrate the location of refineries and other hazardous materials in the city of New Orleans. This effort, Burke noted, was a good first step in scoping the issue to address prevention and target the response.

Burke noted that progress has been made by agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make data available on their websites. However, he added that the field has not made progress in interpreting the data or making that information usable, particularly to the affected communities.

Strength of Biomonitoring

One tool that may become very important for environmental health is biomonitoring, which measures the amount of chemicals absorbed by the body, provides a measure of individual or population exposure levels, evaluates health



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement