February 11, 2010

I Am Environmental Health

In my heart I am always going to be an Environmental heath professional.

I think in this economy, it is very common for many of us in EH to no longer do what we love so much. In order to put food on our tables and shelter over our heads, we need to get a job elsewhere, and not always in EH, or as least as EH as we know it.

My story is the same. Food safety consulting is no longer something I can make a living at. Between giant corporations undercutting private firms like mine, and an economy which makes me a luxury item that can be cut from a budget, I am no longer in demand.

SO instead of restaurants and food manufacturers, I'm involved with HAZMAT and medical diagnostic device risk assessment. But though many would claim those are not Environmental health, I would.

Years ago came up with a simple and very encompassing definition of environmental heath. At the time I was comparing it to environmental protection. I said that EH was protecting us from the environment while environmental protection was protecting the environment from us. It still serves me well. preventing contamination in a medical device is just as important as in a tuna sandwich, if not more so. keeping chemicals from spilling into soup is really no different than preventing a shipment of ethanol from leaking during transport.

Some might claim that budget cuts, at least till the next major disaster, will destroy our profession. Some claim we need to be more professional, more elite. I believe the opposite. we need to be everywhere. WE have been boxed in for too long into Food, water, sewage and solid waste. For some in our profession sewage and solid waste aren't even in our jurisdiction. The more elite we become and the more defined we become by a particular subject the more we become easy prey to be destroyed in a budget cut.

FDA had three big charges and lots of little ones. Pharmaceuticals, Medical Devices and Food make up the bulk of FDA's inspection duties. Yet I find it telling that a major recall and incident in the pharmaceutical industry had an EH root cause, one a food inspector would have been all over -- spraying pesticides directly on shipping containers.

For EH to survive we need to rethink ourselves. we no longer fit a=in one category of protecting things, such as food. we need to be everywhere and protect the world from ANY kind of contamination. it does not matter if it is a nosocomial infection in a hospital, a stint which failed sterilization, a truck carrying hydrochloric acid, an outbreak in a public school, or a hamburger with E coli O157:h7.

My vision is to see every team in compliance and in quality control, in regulatory, industry and academia, always have an EH specialist included. I have no idea how to get there. I doubt that any association has any idea either, I doubt that is even conceivable by those who painted us into this corner in the first place, and who hand out pink slips in their day jobs. But that is my dream.

I may not have a plan, but I have start. Wherever I end end up, in whatever industry I am in, I will continue to say

In my heart I am always an environmental heath professional.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Steve -

So you know, I completely agree with your more expansive definition of environmental health. In fact, NEHA is reaching into all kinds of "new" issue categories for many of the very reasons you cite in your article. If our profession can alter its self image to apprecaite all that we are capable of doing, we can succeed accomplishing your vision!

Nelson Fabian

NEHA Executive Director