Magazine article The Nation's Health

New York City Program Tracking Environmental Health Hazards

Magazine article The Nation's Health

New York City Program Tracking Environmental Health Hazards

Article excerpt

NEW YORK City's restaurant inspection rating system, in which letter grades are displayed in the windows of businesses showing how well they comply with food hygiene practices, is well known in the city.

But what residents may not know is that the system is supported by a lesser-known but equally important effort: the New York City Environmental Public Health Tracking Program.

Led by the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the tracking program is a coordinated effort to collect and analyze data from programs within the city's health department and multiple city and state agencies. The program tracks data on topics such as air, water and housing quality as well as pests.

In the case of the restaurant rating system, the tracking program analyzed inspection data from about 24,000 city restaurants. Thanks to the tracking program, researchers have been able to document "great improvements" in restaurant hygiene since the 2010 launch of the system, according to Wendy McKelvey, PhD, MS, director of environmental health surveillance.

"Right now, we're seeing about 83 percent of restaurants posting 'A' grades, compared to 65 percent as of the start of 2011," McKelvey told The Nation's Health.

The tracking program does more than just collect and analyze data, however: It makes it publicly available. Data from the program is accessible online to the general public, policymakers, researchers and other interested users.

City residents can track neighborhood-level environmental issues through the program's tracking portal. Portal users can find general environmental health and housing and health reports for their own neighborhoods. The site lists statistics on health issues such as childhood lead poisoning and pesticide use.

"What's nice about that format we think is it's a usable way whether they're working in a group setting they can look and see what's going on at the neighborhood level and see how they're comparing to other neighborhoods and if they identify issues they want to work on and improve," McKelvey said.

Portal users can also explore individual environmental health indicators at the city, borough and neighborhood level. …

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