Three in four Americans (74%) say that they or a close family member has lived in a community where one or more environmentally-related problems with air, water or food were a cause of a health problem, and one in four (23%) say they know someone whose health was harmed due to an environmental problem, according to a new national survey funded and released by Health-Track, a national public health organization,

The survey of registered voters was conducted April 20-30, 2000, among 1,565 men and women nationwide by Princeton Survey Research Associates. Results show:

  • Nearly all Americans (90%) say environmental factors like pollution, waste and chemicals are important contributors to diseases.

  • People think exposure to the following health hazards is very or somewhat serious:

    Toxic waste — 79% Drinking water (with harmful chemicals) — 78% Air pollution — 75% Water pollution — 74% Food treated with pesticides — 70%

  • Americans believe that environmental factors play a major or minor role in causing the following diseases:

    Asthma — 84% Birth defects — 78% Childhood cancers like leukemia — 71% Breast cancer — 64%

  • 89% of Americans think the government should make reducing the number of illnesses caused by environmental hazards a top or important priority.

  • 68% mistakenly believe that the government already has a national system in place to monitor chronic diseases like asthma, childhood cancer and birth defects and their links to environmental hazards, or are not sure if the government is doing so.

  • 84% of Americans are greatly or somewhat concerned that the government does not have a national health tracking network in place.

  • 9 out of 10 Americans (89%) support a national environmental health monitoring system that would gather data on where chronic diseases strike and in what numbers.

  • People expect that their privacy would be protected if a national health tracking system was put in place. 73% would want strict rules established prohibiting unauthorized access to an individual’s medical records. 76% say the U.S. should require the use of information that does not personally identify people.

"These numbers tell a very clear story," said Jim O’Hara, executive director of Health-Track. "People are concerned about environmental causes of chronic disease and believe their elected officials should do more to track chronic diseases and their links to environmental hazards and use this data to keep our children and communities healthy."

These survey results come at a time when chronic diseases like asthma and some major birth defects are on the rise. Chronic disease is the number one killer in the U.S., accounting for three of every four deaths each year. About 100 million Americans, more than one-third of the U.S. population, suffer from some form of chronic disease. The annual cost of chronic disease is estimated at $325 billion, according to Health-Track.

Health-Track is a new non-profit tax-exempt project that was established with a grant to Georgetown University from The Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the nation’s largest foundations with a substantial commitment to improving health and the environment. Health-Track seeks to improve the nation’s capacity to prevent chronic diseases starting with the establishment of nationwide systems to track these illnesses, as well as exposure to environmental hazards.