Community partners weigh in on needs for interactive mapping tool
As the Data Management and Analysis Core (DMAC) researchers prepare to develop a portal of interactive maps displaying environmental exposures and social stressors, they asked community partners during a recent UNC SRP Public Health Action Committee (PHAC) meeting what they would like to see in the tool.
During the UNC SRP’s February PHAC meeting, researchers discussed the NC ENVIROSCAN with community partners including Clean Water for North Carolina, Winyah Rivers Alliance and Union County’s health department. Knowing their needs for this portal are essential before development begins so those needs can be included in the greater plan for the program.
“NC ENVIROSCAN is being developed to provide community members, academic researchers and public health practitioners with a mapping tool to locate areas of concern in NC for toxic chemicals, social stressors and disease trends, as well as resources to help communities address these challenges,” Dr. Rebecca Fry, director of UNC SRP, said.
Using data from the NC Department of Health and Human Services, the DMAC will score counties and use a color coded scale to demonstrate the exposure levels of each county for 19 stressors. With this tool, users will be able to visualize the relationship between social and environmental stressors like poverty or contaminants in private well water and health outcomes such as COVID-19 risk. The environmental, sociodemographic and health indicators targeted for initial inclusion in the tool include:
- Arsenic in private wells
- Manganese in private wells
- Prevalence of preterm births
- COVID-19 cases
The DMAC is working with UNC’s Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) to develop the web portal. Once the initial website is complete, researchers will consider adding other contaminants to the maps like PFAS, other toxic metals and ozone as well as other health effects like cancer. They may also add resources to help interpret well results.
“We find it incredibly important to include suggestions from community partners and other end-users while we are in the process of developing the NC ENVIROSCAN application,” DMAC co-leader Julia Rager said. “Such a tool is only helpful if users find it clear and beneficial towards addressing their needs within the community, and it’s ultimately our goal to ensure proper translation of big data in environmental health.”
Community partners asked questions about the program’s format and the information available on it. They made suggestions like converting the portal into an app for communities with less access to Wi-Fi and data they would like to see included after the initial project is complete.
“It is our hope that the ENVIROSCAN tool will promote community advocacy for safe, healthy environments by providing an easily accessible, comprehensive and clear overview of how the combined effects of social and environmental stressors may increase disease risk,” CWFNC Communications and Water Justice Program Manager Rachel Velez said.