A recent symposium organized by Clemson’s Department of Public Health Sciences brought together approximately twenty-five Clemson researchers with state agency experts on South Carolina’s health and environmental data in order to explore the ways in which emerging technologies can link data about health hazards, toxic exposures and health effects.
It has been nearly forty years since the first “Earth Day” raised awareness of the impact of human activities on our natural environment, and the effects of that environment on human life. Today, we are beginning to appreciate the equal importance of our “built environment”. We spend the vast majority of our lives in human-modified places such as homes, schools, offices, factories, parks, farms, airplanes and highways. As a result, our health and wellbeing is affected by a highly complex interplay of conditions in the natural and built environments.
However, academic research that relates to human health and the environment is almost always segmented into disciplines and sub-disciplines like medicine, public health, biology, toxicology, architecture, urban planning, environmental engineering, and many others. A key twenty-first century challenge is to find ways to promote research that transcends these disciplinary boundaries and unifies environmental and health data from a multitude of sources.
Goals of the June 2009 symposium, held at the Madren Center, were to establish collaborations across disciplines, become more familiar with existing systems that bring together environmental and health information, and discuss opportunities for building new research opportunities and enhanced data systems.
Clemson presenters in this day-long symposium included Jim Bottum, Vice Provost and Chief Information Officer, Lee Crandall, Chair of Public Health Sciences and Deborah Falta Assistant Professor of Public Health Sciences, Presenters from South Carolina agencies included David Patterson, Chief of Health and Demographics from the Budget and Control Board and Jared Shoultz, Director of the Division of Public Health Informatics of the Department of Health and Environmental.
Participants in the symposium, funded by a grant from Clemson Computing and Information Technology, discovered that there is great potential to link environmental and health status data in ways that can foster increased trans-disciplinary research.
State and university experts have already developed many of the components necessary to create an integrated data system. Ultimately these new tools may identify public policy interventions that make us healthier by improving the way that we interact with our natural and built environments.