The Right Tool for the Job

Ever wonder whether your risk for developing breast cancer could be related to where you live? Or whether the rates of childhood cancer in your region are higher than normal? Perhaps you’ve been wondering whether any hazardous waste facilities are in the vicinity of your child’s school, or perhaps you’ve noticed that such facilities seem to be disproportionately located near communities of color.

Those living in Massachusetts can now do more than merely wonder; they can answer such questions by using a web-based mapping tool known as the Massachusetts Health and Environment Information System, or MassHEIS. This tool, developed by Silent Spring Institute with funding from the National Library of Medicine, allows browsers to explore how pollution sources, environmental quality indicators, and certain health outcomes vary across the state. Browsers can also examine relationships among these factors.

MassHEIS is unique in combining health, demographic, and environmental databases into one web-based tool. Browsers can map air quality measures and transportation corridors, for example, along with data on asthma hospitalizations.

“Maps help us grasp relationships between disease and environmental characteristics,” says Julia Brody, executive director of Silent Spring Institute. “This powerful tool offers valuable access to information to residents who want to find out more about the potential health hazards in their town or region. Communities need this kind of information to help them advocate for change.”