Environmental Public Health Tracking: a cost-effective system for characterizing the sources, distribution and public health impacts of environmental hazards

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Abstract

Background

The contemporary environment is a complex of interactions between physical, biological, socio-economic systems with major impacts on public health. However, gaps in our understanding of the causes, extent and distribution of these effects remain. The public health community in Sandwell West Midlands has collaborated to successfully develop, pilot and establish the first Environmental Public Health Tracking (EPHT) programme in Europe to address this 'environmental health gap' through systematically linking data on environmental hazards, exposures and diseases.

Methods

Existing networks of environmental, health and regulatory agencies developed a suite of innovative methods to routinely share, integrate and analyse data on hazards, exposures and health outcomes to inform interventions.

Results

Effective data sharing and horizon scanning systems have been established, novel statistical methods piloted, plausible associations framed and tested, and targeted interventions informed by local concerns applied. These have influenced changes in public health practice.

Conclusion

EPHT is a powerful tool for identifying and addressing the key environmental public health impacts at a local level. Sandwell's experience demonstrates that it can be established and operated at virtually no cost. The transfer of National Health Service epidemiological skills to local authorities in 2013 provides an opportunity to expand the programme to fully exploit its potential.

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