The 131st Annual Meeting (November 15-19, 2003) of APHA

The 131st Annual Meeting (November 15-19, 2003) of APHA

4032.0: Tuesday, November 18, 2003 - 9:42 AM

Abstract #74782

Applying geographic information systems (GIS) to environmental public health: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Stephanie Bock Foster, MPH, MA1, Dhelia Maria Williamson, MS2, and Janet Heitgerd, PhD1. (1) Division of Health Studies\Health Investigations Branch, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 1600 Clifton Road, Mailstop E-31, atlanta, GA 30333, 404-498-0568,, (2) Health Investigations Branch, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), 1600 Clifton Road, MS E-31, Atlanta, GA 30333

Over the last decade, applications of geographic information systems (GIS) to examine public health issues have increased dramatically. Having the ability to present disease and environmental exposures concurrently has many benefits. Often it is the simplest means of presenting results of complicated analyses; however, it can also be confusing. As technology and data become more available, there also is potential for misuse.

Although presenting the spatial distribution of health outcomes is appealing, such visualization also increases the potential for inappropriate applications. Poorly constructed maps which are sometimes substituted for data tables may result in improper conclusions and misleading interpretations. Often requests are made to examine anecdotal accounts of disease clusters in neighborhoods where residential, occupational, and exposure history data are not available. Disease registries tend to be the main sources from which disease type, date of diagnosis, and some geographic data are available. Missing, however, are data related to residential history or occupational exposures which are important to addressing environmental exposures and providing insight into confounding factors. Similarly, rare-occurrence diseases, such as birth defects and cancer, or using small geographic areas such as neighborhoods or census tracts, raises issues of small numbers of cases. Maps lacking important epidemiologic and environmental data may result in erroneous correlations.

In this presentation we will give examples of mapping requests and problems associated with conducting some of these requests. We will also discuss the need for complete epidemiologic and environmental data and discuss the limitations of drawing conclusions even when these data are available.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: Environmental Health, Geographic Information Systems

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

Environmental Toxics - Exploring the Association Between Environmental Toxics and Health

The 131st Annual Meeting (November 15-19, 2003) of APHA