New York State Environmental Public Health Tracking imageEnvironmental Public Health Tracking In Action

Read about some of the Tracking Program's efforts to help partners identify patterns and trends and deliver programs that improve environmental health.

Developing a Community and Environmental Health Reports Library

The New York State Department of Health conducts environmental and health investigations of contamination associated with hazardous waste sites, brownfields, and sites of perceived contamination.

New York State Tracking created an online mapping tool that shows communities where the state has conducted environmental health and cancer surveillance investigations. Users can access Community and Environmental Health Reports done in their communities to better understand the relationships between health and the environment.

Helping New Yorkers Beat the Heat and Find a Place to Get Cool

Heat is on average the greatest weather-related killer in the United States. Heat-related deaths and illness are preventable, yet many people suffer from the effects of extreme heat each year. Some individuals are at a higher risk for heat-related illness than others. During periods of extreme heat and humidity, spending just a few hours a day in air conditioning can help prevent heat-related illnesses especially in older adults, people with some chronic health conditions, and young children. Unfortunately, not all New Yorkers have access to air conditioning.

New York State Tracking gathers locations of places to get cool (or cooling centers) in New York State from local health departments and emergency management offices. Tracking's Cooling Center Mapping Application helps New Yorkers identify and get directions to their closest cooling center.

Identifying Populations Most at Risk for Extreme Heat

Staying cool during extreme heat can be especially difficult for vulnerable populations, because they may have not have access to air conditioning or places to cool off. Local health departments and emergency response staff work to deliver information and resources to help people get cool, but identifying populations at greatest risk is challenging, particularly in more rural communities.

New York State Tracking developed census-tract level Heat Vulnerability Index (HVI) Maps for each county outside of New York City. The HVI maps can help local and state officials identify heat vulnerable populations based on language vulnerability, socio-economic vulnerability, environmental and urban vulnerability, and older adult isolation and vulnerability. The maps are designed to help identify where cooling centers, transportation assistance, home visits, risk communication, and alert messages are most needed.

Making Neighborhood Level Cancer Data Available to the Public

New York State Tracking assisted with the development of the Cancer and Environmental Facilities Map, which shows environmental facilities and counts of cancer cases for small areas. New York State Tracking developed the Geographic Aggregation Tool (GAT)  to group areas that have too few cases into one geographic area to enable mapping of small area cancer data without violating patient confidentiality.

Providing Lead Data to Inform NYC Housing Assessments

New York State Tracking helped in designing a sampling protocol and in mapping New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) properties (built before 1978) that may contain lead and pose a potential environmental hazard to residents. With input from a summary report of this work, the Governor signed an Executive Order to expedite repairs and address hazards.

Informing Literature on Impact of Fine Particulates on Hospitalizations

New York State Tracking staff used Tracking data to examine the impact of fine particulates (PM2.5) in the air on hospital admissions for cardiovascular disease. This analysis showed that short-term exposure to PM2.5 had a stronger impact on heart failure than other cardiovascular health diagnoses, and that older adults were more susceptible to heart failure after short term exposure to PM2.5.

This research was included in a 2013 meta-analysis done by the British Heart Foundation, which explored 35 global studies on the association between air pollution and heart failure. The analysis found that reducing exposure to PM2.5 would result in a savings of approximately $333 million in the US and nearly 8,000 fewer heart failure hospitalizations. National and international news organizations, including The Lancet, the BBC, and NBC news, reported these results. When publicized this way, work done by New York State Tracking can help to make the public more aware of the relationship between environmental hazards and disease, and can guide air pollution intervention and prevention strategies and policy making.

Tracking Informs New York State's Prevention Agenda

New York State's Prevention Agenda is a blueprint for state and local action to improve the health of New Yorkers and reduce health disparities. The Prevention Agenda tracks several indicators that could assist in measuring progress in priority areas.

New York State Tracking participated in development of the Promote a Healthy and Safe Environment priority area and worked with other State Health Department programs to create tracking indicators that measure progress on reducing health disparities in New York State. Tracking Air Pollution Data has been used to track progress in reducing exposure to outdoor air pollutants, especially in vulnerable communities across New York State.

Testing Community SoilSHOPS for Safe Gardening

Urban gardening increases green space, beautifies the community, and increases access to fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables. However, many gardeners are unaware that lead is often found in urban soils due to past use of lead in gasoline, lead-based paint, and in industrial processes. Testing soil for lead is the first step to increasing a gardener’s awareness of potential lead hazards in soil.

New York State Tracking teamed up with the New York State Brownfields Land Reuse Project staff and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to offer free soil tests at events called SoilSHOPs (Soil Screening and Health Outreach Partnership) in the upstate New York cities of Albany and Utica. Residents brought in samples from their yards, gardens, and children’s play areas for lead screening. The samples were tested on-site using an XRF analyzer. Residents met with health outreach staff to discuss results and learn how to reduce their exposure to lead in the soil. The SoilSHOPs also featured small community health and gardening fairs where residents could interact with health and neighborhood organizations.

Improving Access to Healthy Foods in New York State Communities

The Cornhill neighborhood of Utica, NY is an urban neighborhood where residents lacked access to healthy food. A declining population and loss of industry has left the Cornhill neighborhood with many vacant industrial and residential sites. A lack of access to healthy food in economically vulnerable neighborhoods can contribute to health disparities.

Community health indicators, compiled with New York State Tracking data, revealed high rates of diabetes and hypertension. New York State Tracking joined an ATSDR-funded Brownfields Land Reuse Project coalition to use vacant lots in the City of Utica to create community gardens and increase the availability of healthy fruits and vegetables in Cornhill. New York State Tracking staff inventoried and mapped vacant lots within the city of Utica. The coalition selected appropriate garden sites and built two demonstration gardens that were used to increase access to healthy food, and provide gardening and nutrition classes. The gardens and health indicators helped the coalition to leverage funding from local businesses and community funds for 10 additional community gardens.

Using Gardens to Create Educational and Vocational Opportunities

While collaborating on a project to develop community gardens and address a lack of access to healthy food, Tracking indicators revealed high rates of unemployment and poverty, especially in vulnerable populations like Utica’s young adults.

The coalition hoped to use the community gardens and educational programs to create vocational opportunities. A microgreens training program taught participants gardening skills and microgreens maintenance, and gave participants a chance to learn basic business skills by operating a farmer’s market stall. A partnership with Mohawk Valley YouthBuild paid at-risk youth a stipend to learn construction skills while working with staff to build new community gardens and raised beds in their neighborhoods. Other YouthBuild teens were paid to build mobile green carts and learn to sell the vegetables in the community. A partnership with the Cornell Cooperative Extension paid teens a stipend to maintain the Boilermaker Teen Garden, grow the vegetables, demonstrate healthy eating and gardening techniques, and provide vegetables to a local shelter and food pantry. Each program allowed participants to learn valuable job skills and lead to actual employment for some participants.

Using Data to Combat a Legionnaires' Disease Outbreak

An outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease in the South Bronx resulted in several fatalities and more than 100 people sickened. An epidemiologic investigation traced the outbreak to the cooling tower of a Bronx hotel.

New York State Tracking provided technical support to the response, including infrastructure, hospital locations, nursing home locations, ZIP codes, and aerial imagery useful in spotting large cooling towers. This information helped the outbreak investigation team to geographically target environmental sampling efforts and prevent further exposure to Legionella.The Tracking Program also created a tool to collect cooling tower registrations in response to a new cooling tower registration and testing law that was enacted following the outbreak.

Developing Technology to Keep Emergency Facilities Stocked during Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy was the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. New York City and Long Island experienced serious flooding and power outages, requiring a coordinated emergency response.

New York State Tracking staff developed maps of Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) so that the Department of Health could effectively respond to residents needing assistance. Tracking-funded Information Technology staff developed a web-based mapping application to assist in efforts to ensure that health care facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes had adequate emergency supplies to endure the storm and subsequent power outages.

Educating about the Dangers of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning during a Winter Storm

In October 2011, an early season snowstorm caused widespread power outages in Western New York. Exposure to carbon monoxide (CO) often increases when during weather-related power outages because of improper portable generator and grill use.

New York State Tracking worked with other Department of Health staff to develop CO warning messages that were disseminated at the time of a power outage. These messages informed the public about the signs of CO poisoning and about the proper placement of a portable generator.