Scientific Group Calls on State To Track Diseases, Possible Environmental Links
A group of scientists on Monday released a report calling for the creation of a statewide surveillance system to track diseases and their possible environmental links, the Contra Costa Times reports. The group, which is overseen by the California Policy Research Center at the University of California, was created in 2001 when former Gov. Gray Davis (D) enacted a law that declared the Legislature's intent to set up a surveillance system and required state officials to form a group to suggest approaches. The group recommended that Department of Health Services and the California Environmental Protection Agency create an interagency Office of Environmental Health Tracking to oversee a surveillance system. The new office would analyze the prevalence of diseases over time among racial groups and in specific areas of the state. The office could then link disease prevalence information to environmental hazard exposure and suggest possible ways to limit risk. The group recommended phasing in the tracking system over several years to reduce costs. According to the group, a five-year implementation of most of the recommendations would cost $9 million, with an additional $17 million for full implementation. The group said that the tracking system could save lives by making it possible to better understand ways to prevent Alzheimer's disease, asthma, autism, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, lead poisoning and Parkinson's disease.
Group member Gina Solomon, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that the new tracking system would fill the "numerous holes" in California's current disease tracking system. She added that while state and federal agencies track air and water pollution, little information is available on exposure to chemicals in homes and workplaces. Dr. Joyce Lashof, chair of the group and professor emeritus of the School of Public Health at UC-Berkeley, said, "What's lacking is a uniformity and a centralized office that tries to oversee them." Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Norwalk) said that if the tracking system "could reduce the cost of environmentally related diseases by just 1%, California could save $100 million" (Kleffman, Contra Costa Times, 2/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.