The Boston University Superfund Research Program (BU SRP)recently made available the first four chapters of a new health studies guide targeted to community groups. The new guidebook, called Is a Health Study the Answer for Your Community? A guide for making informed decisions is available at www.busrp.org/hsg. For many years, environmental health scientists at BU included Dr. David Ozonoff and Dr. Richard Clapp worked with community groups to address health problems in communities. This experience together with input from many experts and organizations including CHEJ was used to develop this Health Studies Guide. The intent is to assist community groups and individuals who think that some form of environmental health investigation or health study may be useful or necessary in their community.
The guide begins by helping readers consider factors that might influence their decision about whether to do a health study. Readers are encouraged to thoughtfully define their goals, to consider whether a health study will be useful in meeting these goals, and, if so, to choose the appropriate kind of study. The guide includes a wide menu of health study types and helps you think through which one might be best to address the questions you are trying to answer. It takes you through the process of choosing and designing a study, but it is not a complete how-to guide. It does not, for example, explain how to do your own epidemiologic study or risk assessment, nor does it describe how to conduct a health survey, though helpful resources are included in the Appendix. One chapter explains how to evaluate the strength of a study’s results and how to think about what the results mean. The guide closes with a glossary to help sort through various technical terms and jargon.
The authors readily acknowledge that a health study may not be the answer to the fundamental questions that you are asking about the health problems in your family or in your community. Instead they offer alternatives to traditional health studies that may help achieve community goals. This guide should be a useful tool not only for those who are contemplating a study, but also for those who are involved in a study or are the subjects of one. It will help you think about your expectations for the study’s findings, costs, and time frame. We couldn’t agree more with this advice “Above all, if you decide on a health study you will want to organize and work with your entire community so that it is meaningful to you.”
Two additional chapters are still being developed and are expected to be completed in the near future. The authors welcome your comments and input.