About Pennsylvania’s
Environmental Public Health Tracking Program

Building a Network

Environmental contaminants are affecting people’s health. Environmental hazards are among parents’ top health concerns for their children. Understanding how these contaminants and other factors are linked to chronic disease is essential to disease prevention.  This protects the health of our communities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is leading the initiative to build the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network.  This Network is being developed in response to questions asking how the environment can affect people’s health. This Web-based system will integrate health and environmental data and provide information to address public health concerns.

States and communities can act upon data generated through tracking. Today health officials in Washington State can do more than determine mercury levels in fish. They can also compile information from many sources and use the data to educate citizens about healthy fish choices with speed and accuracy. In Maine, tracking has allowed researchers to examine high arsenic levels in well water and its effects on reproduction. Consequently, public health officials can now warn well-users about the hazards of exposure to arsenic during pregnancy.

Tracking Network will enable and encourage communities, health care providers, state and local health departments and others to take control of their health.

Why Tracking Matters to Pennsylvania:


Work has begun, in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public health to work on a framework to model and characterize the time and space sequence of events that predict asthma exacerbations. Both health officials and the private citizen can use preliminary results from ongoing research to model and then predict asthma exacerbation. This modeling effort takes advantage of a syndromic surveillance system that monitors daily asthma emergency department visits by the Allegheny County Health Department. A similar system called Real-time Outbreak and Disease Surveillance (RODS) is maintained by University of Pittsburgh, Department of Biomedical Informatics.  RODS provides asthma surveillance data for all counties in Pennsylvania down to zip code level. The initial exploratory model includes analyses of past weather, air pollution data, and asthma ED visits. The main air pollutants of interest are particulate matter and ozone.

It is expected that the prediction model, once validated, will run every night on the EPHT system to produce a prediction model map. Members of the public will be encouraged to look at the prediction map to look for the possibility of air pollution induced asthma for their location.

Health Assessment Program (HAP)

Since 1989, the PADOH Health Assessment Program has partnered with the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to protect the public health of residents from exposure to toxic substances near hazardous waste sites.  The goals of the HAP are to prevent or reduce exposure and illnesses from exposure to hazardous waste sites; determine the health effects associated with exposures to hazardous waste;  lessen the risks of harmful health effects at toxic waste sites in Pennsylvania and provide health education to the public as well as health care professionals about the health effects of hazardous substances. To that end, the Health Assessment Program addresses public health issues near hazardous waste sites by producing documents in the form of health consultations, public health assessments, technical assists, and fact sheets.   Given its vast industrial history, Pennsylvania consistently ranks among the top states in the nation in the number of toxic sites.  The Pennsylvania Environmental Public Health Tracking program, in partnership with the HAP, plans to use its geo-spatial infrastructure to enable search and display of the HAP documents.  The website will enable users to search multiple documents using common data variables including location; exposure pathway; contaminant; NPL or non-NPL site; air, water or soil contamination; concern; requester type (agency or individual petitioner); and sites with quality of life issues such as odor or sound.

Arsenic Concentrations in Groundwater

Pennsylvania has a large rural population dependent on private wells for drinking water. Some of these wells pull groundwater that contains elevated levels of arsenic, a known carcinogen. Many studies indicate that long-term ingestion of arsenic through groundwater increases the risk of developing bladder, kidney, liver, bronchus and lung, and prostate cancer.

Currently the U.S. Geological Survey, Pennsylvania Department of Health, and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection have begun construction of several geochemical and spatial models. These models will evaluate groundwater quality, well, geology, hydrology, soils, topography, and land use variables at statewide and regional scales. The goal is to develop a model that predicts the probability of encountering arsenic at dangerous levels and map the resulting predicted probabilities for the state.

The resulting models and spatial representation of predicted probabilities will make known those areas in Pennsylvania where elevated arsenic concentrations have the highest predicted probability of occurring. Health officials can then direct resources towards additional sampling and education programs in those areas. These modeling maps can also be used by members of the public to know for themselves about the probable distribution of Arsenic in groundwater in their environment.

National EPHT Program