April 22, 2013

Environmental health: the unseen public health professionals

Health district celebrates environmental health specialists on Earth Day, April 22

Recently, thousands of passengers aboard a pleasure cruise ship were sickened with a stomach virus transmitted through their foods. While not all such outbreaks can be stopped, there is a public health professional dedicated to protecting you and your family from these and many other types of diseases.

As Earth Day is observed today, the North Georgia Health District and health departments in Cherokee, Fannin, Gilmer, Murray, Pickens and Whitfield counties celebrate the positive impact environmental health specialists have on our daily lives.

What if no one inspected the restaurants where your family dines? Or, imagine if no one inspected and sampled the pool where your children swim. Where would you go with a complaint about an environmental health or safety hazard? What if your child was found to have elevated levels of lead? Who makes sure your septic system is properly sized and installed? These are only some of the services provided by your local public health environmental specialists. They are part of your county health department but are the unseen professionals making your world a healthier and safer place to live and work. Their primary task is to prevent diseases and conditions that could affect your health and ensure a safe and healthy environment through education, policy development and regulation.

The environmental health profession has its roots in the sanitary and public health movements of the Civil War. During that war, more soldiers died of diseases and parasites than in battle — about 320,000.

In 1910, a survey found that 80 percent of schools and churches lacked sanitary outhouses. That same survey found that a staggering 45 percent of Southern schoolchildren were infested with hookworms while an estimated 8 million Southerners harbored and spread the blood-sucking parasites. Victims suffered severe anemia which created a Southern stereotype: poor, barefoot, lazy, deformed and mentally deficient.

In the early 20th century, a regulatory profession was needed to promote proper disposal of human wastes, protect food services and drinking water supplies, and stop epidemics caused by unsanitary conditions, mosquitoes and other vectors of disease. That profession came to be known as sanitarians, and much later, environmental health specialists. The defeat of hookworms by sanitary feces disposal and simply wearing shoes may have been the single most important factor in the economic resurrection of the South.

Current threats to public health are much more complex than a hundred years ago, and environmental health professionals have adapted by increasing education and experience requirements to include epidemiology, soil science, food science, water chemistry, emergency preparedness and many more specialized areas of knowledge. Your public health environmental professional has to be a generalist: one moment, inspecting a hotel; the next, investigating a case of raccoon rabies; and the next, reviewing plans for a proposed subdivision or new restaurant.

But the most important skill environmentalists possess is the ability to effectively communicate and educate those with whom they interact. Although these professionals carry out public health regulatory and administrative roles, most compliance is gained by educating and convincing others of the science behind public health rules and regulations.   

So, next time you eat out, find the posted inspection report and think of the environmental professional behind it. We are always there whether you know about us or not.

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  • Move carefully, but soon

    No one intended for it to happen. No one had any bad motives.
    But during a period of 40 years or more, quite a few people didn’t do enough planning, didn’t have enough foresight to see what all of the development in Dalton would do.

    July 27, 2014

  • Local school systems must bear costs of federal immigration failure

    No word. No warning. Little help.
    That’s what Dalton Public Schools officials received from the federal government when it dropped 30 Central American students into local classrooms last school year.

    July 26, 2014

  • Sacrifices worth honoring

    Members of the Dalton City Council were recently approached by representatives of the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart with a request to declare Dalton a Purple Heart City. Council members indicated they will approve the request.

    July 24, 2014

  • We must do better

    The numbers tell a sad tale.
    Registered voters: 36,843.
    Cards cast: 5,307.
    That means the turnout for Tuesday’s runoffs in Whitfield County was a measly 14.4 percent, according to unofficial results from the Whitfield County elections office.

    July 23, 2014

  • Letter: Control immigration

    Thousands are starting to pour into our country, and things are getting personal. Why would we end up the bad guys if we turn away children who aren’t ours? How does it make us better people to let one man steal from our children and stand by and do nothing?

    July 23, 2014

  • Helping with Book Blast betters the community

    The school test results are in, and students in Whitfield and Murray counties mostly improved from a year ago, mirroring or exceeding average scores of their peers.

    July 23, 2014

  • Mark Millican: Guns are already everywhere

    Though it happened over 30 years ago, the image is still vivid.

    July 22, 2014

  • Charles Oliver: Former officer works overtime improperly

    Stephen F. Hall has pleaded guilty to theft by deception and falsifying a government record.

    July 22, 2014

  • Dalton council should seek answers

    Judicial elections in this area are usually pretty staid. In fact, they are generally nonexistent, since most judges run unopposed.

    July 21, 2014

  • Letter: Something to think about

    It has been better than four months now since Malaysia Flight 370 went missing. During that time we have heard all kinds of speculation, conjecture and opinions as to what happened to it. The only certainties to emerge are that the Malaysians fumbled the ball early on and there are some understandably distressed loved ones left to deal with their losses.

    July 21, 2014