Ensuring the public’s health is a multifaceted challenge requiring expertise in more than just the health threats that come from within. As the United States continues to experience increasing numbers of severe weather events and national foodborne illness outbreaks, the nation’s environmental health is pushed front and center. Addressing environmental health issues such as climate change, food safety and security, water and air quality, and the spread of vector-borne diseases is one of the most important duties public health professionals are tasked with. Local health departments need to be strong advocates for continued environmental health education, funding, and support.
World Environmental Health Day this Saturday, September 26, is an opportunity to do just that. Local health departments can use the event to educate their communities and partners on what the field is, raise awareness of the biggest risks and issues in environmental health today, and spark discussion on the steps people can take to both protect the environment and ensure their safety from its threats.
Environmental health is the branch of public health that focuses on the health interrelationships between people and their environments. It promotes human health and well-being by fostering a safe and healthful environment, both built and natural. The discipline often includes work in areas such as climate change mitigation, hazardous materials management, land use planning, radiological health, food safety, toxic chemical exposure, recreational water illness prevention, safe drinking water, and more. Environmental health professionals often work as epidemiologists, toxicologists, sanitarians, industrial hygienists, and as subject matter specialists.
World Environmental Health Day, an initiative of the International Federation of Environmental Health, is celebrated every year to not only raise awareness of the profession and the health threats that need to be addressed, but as an opportunity for organizations around the globe to band together and host events that encourage environmental health literacy. This year’s theme focuses on children’s health and safety. Children are especially vulnerable to environmental health threats because they are less resistant to infection, more susceptible to negative effects from air pollution and chemical contaminants, and are at a higher risk of injury from accidents at home or school. Previous year themes have focused on environmental health inequities, and emerging environmental health threats.
Numerous educational resources and toolkits that can help support local health initiatives are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health, and from the World Health Organization.
Additionally, NACCHO has an extensive environmental health portfolio that focuses on some of the biggest issues affecting environmental health today, with subject matter experts working to develop new tools and resources that support local public health. NACCHO has produced a number of environmental health publications, offers technical assistance in a variety of subject areas, and facilitates mentorship programs that help professionals grow in their practice.
Featured NACCHO resources include:
- “The Role of Environmental Health Programs in Accreditation”: This new fact sheet examines the important contribution of environmental health to the accreditation process. NACCHO interviewed local health departments to learn about the steps they take and what types of environmental public health (EHP) documentation they use in their accreditation process.
- “12 Steps to Operationalize Climate Change Programs in Local Health Departments”: This fact sheet helps local health departments address climate change and initiate programs to help mitigate the public health impacts associated with it. The fact sheet identifies 12 important steps that local health departments should follow when initiating climate change work, and functions as a checklist to ensure all stages are successfully completed.
- “Impact of Budget Cuts on Environmental Health Services at Local Health Departments”: This research brief surveyed a nationally representative sample of local health departments in 2012 to learn about changes to environmental health funding and the impacts of these changes on the environmental health workforce and services at local health departments.
- The Greener Side of Local Public Health: NACCHO’s monthly environmental health newsletter shares featured articles from The Essential Elements of Local Public Health, as well as updates from NACCHO, environmental health in the news, tools and resources, events, and funding opportunities. Sign up to receive the newsletter through your MyNACCHO account.
- Model Practice Database: NACCHO’s Model Practices Database is an online, searchable collection of innovative best practices across public health areas. Numerous environmental health best practices are featured, in areas such as food safety, vector control, and water quality. These practices allow environmental health professionals to benefit from their colleagues’ experiences, to learn what works, get strategies on how to re-implement effective programs with good results, and save time and resources.
- NACCHO Toolbox: NACCHO’s Toolbox is a free, online collection of local public health tools produced by members of the public health community that professionals and other external stakeholders can use to inform and improve their work in the promotion and advancement of public health objectives. Examples of tools include, but are not limited to case examples, presentations, fact sheets, drills, evaluations, protocols, templates, reports, and training materials. Numerous environmental health toolkits are available within the toolbox, including Environmental Health in All Policies, Environmental Health Tracking, and Food Safety.
- Policy Statements: NACCHO Policy Statements, determined by the Board of Directors, are a reflection of the organization’s public health advocacy. A number of environmental health policy statements are available on subjects such as children’s environmental health, water quality, foodborne disease outbreak response, and hydraulic fracturing.
- Retail Program Standards Mentorship Program: The mentorship program provides opportunities for local health department staff to learn about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards (Retail Program Standards) through active participation and training, to share experiences and develop tools and resources related to the Retail Program Standards, and support the ongoing effort to increase the use of the Standards nationwide. NACCHO just wrapped up its fourth year running the mentorship program and will be accepting applications for a fifth cohort beginning October 1.
World Environmental Health Day is a timely affair this year, on the heels of last month’s unveiling of the Clean Power Plan, last week’s finalization of two regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act, and the United States’ recent commitment to a national food waste reduction goal. Such legislation is a step in the right direction for the health of Americans. Environmental health education and awareness is necessary for the safety and health of all communities, and local health departments are uniquely positioned to share that message on an intimate level.
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