The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has been awarded funding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish a National Center of Excellence in Environmental Public Health Tracking.
The new initiative will develop a national electronic network to identify and monitor the links between exposure to environmental factors and chronic conditions such as autoimmune and neurological diseases, birth defects, cancer, asthma, lead poisoning and developmental disabilities.
"The center and the CDC's tracking initiative provide tremendous opportunities to advance our knowledge of the relationship between health and the environment, and to evaluate, track and prevent environmental health hazards," says Thomas Burke, professor of health policy and management, who will serve as principal investigator of the Hopkins center.
The CDC has committed $14.2 million in grants to state and local governments and schools of public health to develop the Environmental Public Health Tracking Network. The Bloomberg School is expected to receive $700,000 annually over the next three years.
The center will provide training and education to strengthen the environmental health work force, conduct research to investigate links between health effects and the environment, and provide technical assistance and research support for the development of the network.
Environmental public health tracking brings together environmental protection efforts to characterize and control sources with public health surveillance to understand adverse exposures and health effects, Burke said. This will offer a chance to begin piecing together a very complex puzzle, he said, and to develop a sounder public health basis for national environmental priorities and the management of environmental risks.
Burke and colleague Lynn Goldman, professor of environmental health sciences and director of the MidAtlantic Public Health Training Center at the Bloomberg School, were instrumental in conceptualizing the tracking network in their work as principal investigators at the Pew Environmental Health Commission at the school. The 2001 Pew Environmental Health Commission report, America's Environmental Health Gap: Why the Country Needs a Nationwide Health Tracking Network, found that the current public health system is inadequate for tracking exposures to environmental hazards and effects on health. The information is needed to accurately assess the health of the community and provide the scientific data to develop sound policies to prevent disease.
The center will develop the tracking network with the CDC; numerous governmental jurisdictions throughout the country; the University of California, Berkeley; and Tulane University. In addition, it will coordinate efforts and resources with the MidAtlantic Public Health Training Center; the Center for Excellence in Community Environmental Health Practice, also headed by Burke; and the Center for Public Health Preparedness, directed by Robert Lawrence, professor and associate dean for professional education programs at the Bloomberg School.
Other Hopkins faculty involved with the project are co-investigator Beth Resnick, associate director of the Center for Excellence in Community Environmental Health Practice; Jonathan Samet, chair of the Department of Epidemiology and director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control, the Center for Epidemiology and Policy, and the Risk Sciences and Public Policy Institute; and Ronald Brookmeyer, professor of biostatistics and chair of the Master of Public Health program.