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Startup Bringing Environmental Concerns Home by Linking Them to Personal Health

A number of data platforms have emerged in recent months that aim to help give organizations an eagle-eye view of issues such as deforestation and climate resilience, but one startup is using the power of data to engage individuals who have yet to understand how global environmental problems may be affecting them personally.

Scott and Nick Bedbury, co-founders of Seattle-based environmental and health analytics startup Upstream Research, are aiming to foster more engagement around environmental and climate change issues by bringing them to people's backyards. By analyzing levels of environmental toxicity in relation to disease rates, Upstream Research hopes to inspire grassroots activism by showing users how these broader issues can directly affect their personal health.

“We can change the way we look at the environment by making it more local and relating it to your health and your family’s health,” CEO Nick Bedbury told PSFK. “At the same time we can also change the way we think about public health and the crossover of healthcare at large, and how you keep the community healthy.”

Scott Bedbury describes the company as a “startup with a mission like a nonprofit.” Upstream consists of two platforms: Upstream Navigator, an application for larger organizations and research groups; and the consumer-focused Upstream Reports, which compiles toxicity data for any given area’s water, soil and air, along with data rates for cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and key socioeconomic info.

As Nick explained, future iterations of the platform will tie in a level of relativity, “to drive a mix of curiosity and concern.”

While the company’s goal is to frame the health data in a way that draws users’ attention to environmental and social issues, the team is careful to explain that correlation does not imply causation. For example, Atlanta’s above-average rate of uninsured residents has little to do with its high rate of fine particulate matter. Similarly, Atlanta’s risk factor index for lead exposure is 95 percent higher than the average rate, but this does not mean that a case of lead toxicity is inevitable.

Nick explains that the relationship of these variables can help influence where people choose to live, work or go to school. While not every family has the luxury of choice, the information can still help individuals, families and healthcare providers to take preventative steps to lead healthy lives.

The brothers point out the urgency of compiling the information in the face of an incoming administration that will more than likely find ways to decrease the availability of climate- and environment-related data.

“[We’re] trying to get as much information downloaded before Trump takes office, before it gets harder to find,” Scott told PSFK.

Luckily, progress on this front is already well underway and will be hard to undo: In 2015, in recognition of the threat that climate change poses to public health, the Obama administration brought together health and medical professionals, academics and other key stakeholders for a series of actions aimed at improving the country’s understanding of the health impacts of climate change in the U.S. And earlier this month, the C40 announced a two-year partnership with Johnson & Johnson to promote the health and wellbeing of urban inhabitants. Through research and education, the partnership will help connect the dots between better climate and air to measurably better health benefits in vulnerable urban areas.

In the meantime, projects such as Upstream Research are working to ensure we are aware and empowered at the individual level to make the best decisions to take charge of our own health and wellbeing, regardless of whether the government continues to treat it as a priority.