National Water Tracking System

A screenshot of a community water search on the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network, a web hub maintained by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Photo by CDC

Americans drink more than a pound of water every day. Most of them — nearly 90 percent — get it from a community water supply.

Keeping these supplies clean and contaminant-free has enormous public health benefits, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has begun compiling local and state drinking water data to help do so. In a webinar hosted by APHA last week, health experts at CDC and state health departments discussed this national water tracking system and benefits already evidenced from its early years of existence.

With its online database created in 2009, CDC has compiled data on healthy and unhealthy water determinants such as arsenic, uranium and disinfection byproducts in 23 states — with figures dating back to 1999. This information demonstrates the safety of water in numerous U.S. locations and possible reasons for it.

Success stories in Iowa, New Mexico, Vermont and Wisconsin show how this tracking has helped improve public health, from lowering cancer risks to enhancing air quality.

The data has been beneficial at a local level, too. When health leadership at the Florida Department of Health wanted to know if high bladder cancer rates in several communities resulted from arsenic exposure — as often holds true nationwide — the Martin County Health Department was able to eliminate the possibility through CDC’s data hub.

“At the local level, we use the tracking website when we have a special need for specific information,” said Bob Washam, Martin County’s environmental health director. “We’ll use the data to assist us with documenting if something is a hazard that could cause a disease, we link information about hazards and exposures and we clarify associations between hazard and health effects. Then we can develop plans to prevent disease.”

This webinar will be archived at APHA online.