It isn’t hard to understand how flu shots and children’s immunizations fit into the role of the local health department. The tracking of disease outbreaks and educating the community on how they can stop the spread of communicable diseases also makes perfect sense. But if you’re like me, the Environmental Health section of the Grafton-Taylor County Health Department seems to be a little bit more of a mystery.
Simply put, our Registered Sanitarian Jeff Kiger works to promote health for all through a healthy environment. If you think about it, we interact with the environment constantly. These interactions affect quality of life, years of healthy life lived, and health disparities.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines environment, as it relates to health, as “all the physical, chemical, and biological factors external to a person, and all the related behaviors.”
While the main thrust in medicine is treatment of disease, our first line of defense against disease is environmental management. Throughout history, the greatest accomplishments in the reduction of disease have been accomplished by altering the environment. Environmental health consists of preventing or controlling disease, injury, and disability related to the interactions between people and their environment.
People have been practicing environmental management for centuries. In the 1800's, during an epidemic of cholera in London, England, a man named Snow capped a well that he had identified as being involved with the outbreak, effectively ending the epidemic. His basic knowledge of the disease and mapping its occurrences has evolved into modern epidemiology.
Maintaining a healthy environment is central to increasing quality of life and years of healthy life. Globally, nearly 25 percent of all deaths and the total disease burden can be attributed to environmental factors.
Environmental factors are diverse and far reaching. They include: exposure to hazardous substances in the air, water, soil and food; natural and technological disasters; physical hazards; nutritional deficiencies; and the built environment.
Currently, these are some of the programs/inspections/investigations in which environmental health professionals in West Virginia are working: Clean Indoor Air, Disaster Sanitation, Epidemiological Investigations, Fairs and Festivals, Food Establishments/Food Manufacturing, Home Loan Evaluations, Lead, Lodging, Manufactured Home Communities, Rabies Prevention, Recreational Water Facilities, Tattoo/Body Piercing, Radiation, Sewage, Threat Preparedness (biological and chemical terrorism), and Water (both public and private supplies).
Think about the places where you spend most of your time … work, home, school, etc. Some of these environments may expose you to: indoor air pollution, inadequate heating and sanitation, structural problems, electrical and fire hazards, lead-based paint hazards. These hazards can impact health and safety. Maintaining healthy homes and communities is essential to environmental health.
For more information on the Environmental Health section of the Grafton-Taylor County Health Department, please call Jeff Kiger at 304-265-1288 or visit our new website at www.GTCHDWV.org.