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ANOTHER VOICE: Happy 2013 Environmental Health Specialist Day

On April 22, Oregon celebrates “Environmental Health Specialist Day.” This annually celebrated day occurs every fourth Monday in April to celebrate the hard work performed by environmental health specialists in Oregon and across the country.

There are 270 registered environmental health specialists and trainees in the state of Oregon. Official recognition is particularly important because the illnesses and injuries prevented by their activities can never be measured quantitatively. It is the absence of illness, which all of us have come to take for granted, that indicates their success.

In Hood River County, environmental health specialists are responsible for several areas of oversight which include: drinking water protection; licensing and regulation of food, lodging, pool and spa facilities; permitting of on-site waste water disposal systems; childcare facility and school kitchen inspections; public health emergency preparedness; as well as communicable disease investigations.

In the last 100 years, environmental health professionals increased life expectancy in the United States by 30 years. Improvements like a better understanding of diseases and immunization campaigns contributed; however, the greatest improvement (80 percent) can be attributed to safer food and drinking water supplies.

Unfortunately, environmental health specialists have become victims of their own success. Since the absence of illness is the only measurement of success, the public easily becomes complacent and forgets the importance of these professionals.

From 1980 to 2000, the per-capita number of environmental health professionals in the United States has shrunk by 28 percent. This problem is compounded by several emerging challenges such as: new diseases and pests, shifting demographics, climate change, resource scarcity and increasing urban density.

While Oregonians enjoy a mostly safe environment, the “CDC estimates that each year roughly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of food-borne diseases.”

As well, there are approximately 8 million cases of contaminated drinking water-caused illnesses and 1.5 million emergency department visits due to poor air quality. These issues result in an estimated $77 billion impact to our economy annually.

On April 22, be thankful for your good health, enjoy a glass of water, eat a meal at your favorite restaurant and perhaps confidently leave your children at a local daycare. Also, encourage your neighbors to remember that it is because of the dedication and hard work of these professionals that everyone is able to enjoy those experiences safely.

“Happy Environmental Health Specialist Day,” everyone!

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Ian Stromquist, REHS, has been a member of the environmental health profession for more than six years and currently works for Hood River County Health Department. His views are not necessarily those of his employer.

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