This website was created to share the experience and perspective of public health staff dedicated to studying links between environmental exposure to chemicals and health effects in California communities. Often, residents conduct health surveys to count the number of people with illnesses in their community. These surveys can be very valuable to help communities identify health problems and raise attention to health concerns. However, in order to suggest a link between a toxic exposure and illness, one would need to carry out a scientific health study.
A health study requires careful methods of measuring exposure and illness. A disease may be caused by many different factors. It may be difficult to determine that the disease was caused by exposure to contaminants, and not due to other factors. No community is free of disease, so there is always some level of disease in a community. It can be hard to show that there are an unusually high number of people with a particular disease.
Because these types of health studies can present many challenges, they are rarely conducted in small communities. However, a health study is only one of many options that can address concerns about exposure and health in a community exposed to contaminants. Some goals can often be obtained more effectively through other activities.
Because every situation is different, this website cannot determine whether a health study is feasible in any particular community. When deciding whether or not to conduct a health study, researchers and community members must consider if the exposure and illness in their community can be measured, if the health study is supported by key stakeholders, and if it is likely to advance the community's goals.
We are presenting the basic concepts of health studies in communities concerned about environmental contamination with the hope that understanding them will help you become a better advocate for your community's health.
The Site Assessment Section
of the Health Investigations Branch
California of Public Health