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California Environmental Health Tracking Program Slated for Massive Cuts

July 15, 2013

Program responsible for tracking heat-related illness, deaths, faces crippling reductions

July 15, 2013 (Oakland, CA) – California’s main statewide health tracking system for environmental hazards and non-infectious disease, the California Environmental Health Tracking Program (CEHTP), received notice this week from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that it will be cut by 35 percent effective August 1, undermining California’s capacity to analyze and respond to looming public health threats.

CEHTP tracks heat-related illnesses and deaths across the state. During heat waves like the one that engulfed California in early July, CEHTP analysis allows for targeted use of resources that save lives and money—for example, keeping cooling centers open in local municipalities.

Additionally, CEHTP tracks chronic disease rates and investigates how environmental hazards contribute to asthma, cancer, heart disease, childhood lead poisoning, birth defects, and more. CEHTP acts as the “canary in the coal mine,” alerting public health agencies to health dangers before they are readily apparent, and providing the data they need to take action to protect health and avoid costly illnesses. The program received significant statewide attention last year when its Breast Cancer Mapping Project pinpointed four previously unidentified geographic areas in California with invasive breast cancer rates 10-20 percent higher than the state average.

“This short-sighted cut to CEHTP is symptomatic of a broader dismantling of critical public health services and infrastructure that puts the health of Californians at risk,” said Mary A. Pittman, DrPH, president and CEO of the Public Health Institute (PHI), which is funded by the CDC to administer CEHTP on behalf of the California Department of Public Health. “Cutting funding for CEHTP will leave public health programs and agencies without a critical early warning system that allows us to respond to hazards in time to actually protect people.”

The 35% cut to CEHTP means that program operations may be scaled back or halted in the following areas:

  • Tracking heat-related death and illness across the state, which identifies populations and communities particularly vulnerable in the face of climate change, and helps agencies plan ahead to protect health as temperatures will continue to rise.
  • Tracking agricultural pesticide use near public schools in California.
  • Providing the only statewide data on locations of public water systems, which identifies communities at risk for contaminated drinking water and helps to plan for cleaner drinking water in rural communities.
  • Provides the first publicly available data on childhood lead poisoning rates across California.

Other states across the U.S. will also experience diminished capacity to track and respond to environmental health threats. CEHTP is one of 23 state-based programs in the CDC’s national environmental health tracking network, founded in 2009. Each state program will be cut by 35% effective August 1. 

Cuts to CEHTP represent a broader dismantling of public health across the country. The CDC funds CEHTP as well as the bulk of the country’s public health infrastructure--yet in 2013 CDC funding was slashed by $600 million, and the proposed 2014 federal budget would reduce CDC's budget authority to levels lower than they were in 2003. As CDC's budget has been reduced, funding for CEHTP has been the victim of funding shifts, cuts and reallocations to shore up other programs and priorities. Numerous other public health programs have been eliminated or reduced because of CDC’s diminishing resources. Local and state health departments have also faced crippling reductions.     

“CEHTP allows us to more effectively monitor and prevent costly chronic diseases,” said Matthew Marsom, vice president of public policy at PHI. “PHI calls on Congress and the Obama Administration to restore funding for the CEHTP and the entire national environmental health tracking program. We must deepen investments in public health, and recommit to a vision of keeping Americans healthy in the first place.”


For more information, contact: Ann Whidden, 415-425-5157, awhidden@phi.org