Spatial epidemiology is increasingly being used to assess health risks associated with environmental hazards. Risk patterns tend to have both a temporal and a spatial component; thus, spatial epidemiology must combine methods from epidemiology, statistics, and geographic information science. Recent statistical advances in spatial epidemiology include the use of smoothing in risk maps to create an interpretable risk surface, the extension of spatial models to incorporate the time dimension, and the combination of individual- and area-level information. Advances in geographic information systems and the growing availability of modeling packages have led to an improvement in exposure assessment. Techniques drawn from geographic information science are being developed to enable the visualization of uncertainty and ensure more meaningful inferences are made from data. When public health concerns related to the environment arise, it is essential to address such anxieties appropriately and in a timely manner. Tools designed to facilitate the investigation process are being developed, although the availability of complete and clean health data, and appropriate exposure data often remain limiting factors.
Keywords: disease mapping; environmental epidemiology; geographic information systems (GIS); risk analysis; spatial epidemiology; uncertainty.