In the year 2000, the Pew Environmental Health Commission detailed an “environmental health gap,” a lack of basic information needed to document links between environmental hazards and health outcomes. To close this gap, the Pew report called for integrating tracking systems for environmental hazards, bodily exposures, and diseases, linking data to allow for analysis, and using results to prevent disease and save lives.
The Pew Report stimulated new thinking and specific proposals to overcome the split between environment and health. In response, Congress provided the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with funds in 2002 for pilot projects. CDC invited scientists, managers, and policy specialists from state health and environmental departments, federal agencies, medical societies, nongovernmental organizations, and universities to serve on workgroups to discuss organization, data and information technology, needs assessment, and public health action.
In 2006, Congress began funding the implementation of the National Tracking Network. With this money, CDC funded health departments in 16 states and 1 city to build local tracking networks. CDC also funded 4 academic partners and continued to work with several federal collaborators. In 2009, 2010, and 2014, Congress increased funding for the Tracking Network, and CDC was able to fund an additional 9 states, for a total of 25 states and 1 city health department.
One of the first states to be funded in 2006, the Maryland Environmental Public Health Tracking Program was established jointly between the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Maryland Department of the Environment to serve as a gateway for environmental and health databases in the state.